Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

 

SECOND DIVISION

 

MANUEL CATINDIG, represented by his legal representative EMILIANO CATINDIG-RODRIGO,

Petitioner,

 

- versus -

 

AURORA IRENE VDA. DE MENESES,

Respondent.

G.R. No. 165851

 

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

SILVINO ROXAS, SR., represented G.R. No. 168875

by FELICISIMA VILLAFUERTE

ROXAS, Present:

Petitioner,

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

- versus - NACHURA,

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

COURT OF APPEALS and MENDOZA, JJ.

AURORA IRENE VDA. DE

MENESES, Promulgated:

Respondents.

February 2, 2011

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

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

PERALTA, J.:

 

Before this Court are two consolidated cases, namely, (1) Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, docketed as G.R. No. 165851, filed by petitioner Manuel Catindig, represented by Emiliano Catindig-Rodrigo, assailing the Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 65697, which affirmed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan in Civil Case No. 320-M-95; and (2) Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, docketed as G.R. No. 168875, filed by petitioner Silvino Roxas, Sr., represented by Felicisima Villafuerte Roxas, seeking to set aside the Decision[2] and Resolution[3] of the CA in CA-G.R. CV No. 65697, which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan in Civil Case No. 320-M-95.

The property subject of this controversy pertains to a parcel of land situated in Malolos, Bulacan, with an area of 49,139 square meters, titled in the name of the late Rosendo Meneses, Sr., under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-1749 (hereinafter referred to as the Masusuwi Fishpond). Respondent Aurora Irene C. Vda. de Meneses is the surviving spouse of the registered owner, Rosendo Meneses, Sr.. She was issued Letters of Administration over the estate of her late husband in Special Proceedings Case No. 91498 pending before the then Court of First Instance of the City of Manila, Branch 22. On May 17, 1995, respondent, in her capacity as administratrix of her husband's estate, filed a Complaint for Recovery of Possession, Sum of Money and Damages against petitioners Manuel Catindig and Silvino Roxas, Sr. before the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan, to recover possession over the Masusuwi Fishpond.

 

Respondent alleged that in September 1975, petitioner Catindig, the first cousin of her husband, deprived her of the possession over the Masusuwi Fishpond, through fraud, undue influence and intimidation. Since then, petitioner Catindig unlawfully leased the property to petitioner Roxas. Respondent verbally demanded that petitioners vacate the Masusuwi Fishpond, but all were futile, thus, forcing respondent to send demand letters to petitioners Roxas and Catindig. However, petitioners still ignored said demands. Hence, respondent filed a suit against the petitioners to recover the property and demanded payment of unearned income, damages, attorney's fees and costs of suit.

 

In his Answer, petitioner Catindig maintained that he bought the Masusuwi Fishpond from respondent and her children in January 1978, as evidenced by a Deed of Absolute Sale. Catindig further argued that even assuming that respondent was indeed divested of her possession of the Masusuwi Fishpond by fraud, her cause of action had already prescribed considering the lapse of about 20 years from 1975, which was allegedly the year when she was fraudulently deprived of her possession over the property.

 

Petitioner Roxas, on the other hand, asserted in his own Answer that respondent has no cause of action against him, because Catindig is the lawful owner of the Masusuwi Fishpond, to whom he had paid his rentals in advance until the year 2001.

After trial, the trial court ruled in favor of respondent, thus:

 

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff [respondent herein],

 

(a) Ordering the defendants [petitioners herein] to vacate the Masusuwi Fishpond and turn over the possession/occupancy thereof to plaintiff [respondent herein];

 

(b) Ordering the defendants [petitioners herein] to pay and/or reimburse plaintiff [respondent herein] the amount of P90,000.00 per year since 1985 up to the time possession of the fishpond is surrendered to plaintiff [respondent herein];

 

(c) Ordering the defendants [petitioners herein] jointly and severally to pay plaintiff [respondent herein] the amount of P100,000.00 as attorney's fees, and to pay the costs of suit.

 

 

The counterclaims of defendants [petitioners herein] are ordered dismissed, for lack of merit.

 

SO ORDERED.[4]

 

 

The trial court found that the Deed of Absolute Sale executed between respondent and petitioner Catindig was simulated and fictitious, and therefore, did not convey title over the Masusuwi Fishpond to petitioner Catindig. It gave due credence to the testimony of respondent that petitioner Catindig convinced her to sign the said deed of sale, because it was intended to be a mere proposal subject to the approval of the trial court wherein the proceedings for the settlement of the estate of Rosendo Meneses, Sr. was still pending. The court a quo was further convinced that the Deed of Absolute Sale lacked consideration, because respondent and her children never received the stipulated purchase price for the Masusuwi Fishpond which was pegged at PhP150,000.00. Since ownership over the property never transferred to Catindig, the trial court declared that he has no right to lease it to Roxas. The court also found that petitioner Roxas cannot claim good faith in leasing the Masusuwi Fishpond, because he relied on an incomplete and unnotarized Deed of Sale.

 

Aggrieved, petitioners separately challenged the trial court's Decision before the CA. The CA dismissed both the petitioners' appeals and affirmed the RTC. The CA ruled that the trial court properly rejected petitioners' reliance on the deed of absolute sale executed between respondent and petitioner Catindig. The CA also found that since it is settled that a Torrens title is a constructive notice to the whole world of a property's lawful owner, petitioner Roxas could not invoke good faith by relying on the Deed of Absolute Sale in favor of his lessor, petitioner Catindig.

 

Hence, petitioner Catindig filed this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45, raising the following issues:

 

1.                  WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE TRIAL COURT'S DECISION IN NOT HOLDING THAT RESPONDENT'S CAUSE OF ACTION IS IN REALITY, ONE FOR ANNULMENT OF CONTRACT UNDER ARTICLES 1390 AND 1391 OF THE NEW CIVIL CODE.

 

2.                  WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE TRIAL COURT'S DECISION IN NOT HOLDING THAT RESPONDENT'S CAUSE OF ACTION IS BASED ON ALLEGED FRAUD AND/OR INTIMIDATION, HAS NOT PRESCRIBED.

 

3.                  WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY AND GRAVELY ERRED IN DISREGARDING THE GENUINENESS AND DUE EXECUTION OF THE DEED OF ABSOLUTE SALE.

 

 

On the other hand, petitioner Silvino Roxas, Sr. filed a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65, raising this lone issue:

 

WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN FINDING THAT THE PETITIONER IS JOINTLY AND SOLIDARILY LIABLE WITH HIS CO-DEFENDANT; AND IN NOT CONSIDERING THAT HE WAS A LESSEE IN GOOD FAITH OF THE SUBJECT PROPERTY.

 

 

The issues raised by petitioner Catindig could be reduced into whether the Deed of Sale was genuine or simulated.

 

Petitioner Catindig maintains that the deed of sale was voluntarily signed by respondent and her children, and that they received the consideration of PhP150,000.00 stipulated therein. Even on the assumption that they were defrauded into signing the agreement, this merely makes the deed voidable, at most, due to vitiated consent. Therefore, any cause of action respondent may have, had already prescribed, and the contract was already ratified by respondent's failure to file any action to annul the deed within four years from 1978, the year when respondent discovered the fraud.

Respondent, on the other hand, insists that the deed of sale is not merely voidable, but void for being simulated. Hence, she could not have filed an action for annulment of contract under Articles 1390 and 1391 of the Civil Code, because this remedy applies to voidable contracts. Instead, respondent filed an action for recovery of possession of the Masusuwi Fishpond.

 

The issue on the genuineness of the deed of sale is essentially a question of fact. It is settled that this Court is not duty-bound to analyze and weigh again the evidence considered in the proceedings below. This is especially true where the trial court's factual findings are adopted and affirmed by the CA as in the present case. Factual findings of the trial court, affirmed by the CA, are final and conclusive and may not be reviewed on appeal.[5]

 

The Court finds that there exists no reason for Us to disturb the trial court's finding that the deed of sale was simulated. The trial court's discussion on the said issue is hereby quoted:

 

After evaluating the evidence, both testimonial and documentary, presented by the parties, this court is convinced that the Deed of Absolute Sale relied upon by the defendants [petitioners herein] is simulated and fictitious and has no consideration.

 

On its face, the Deed of Absolute sale (Exh. G, Exh. 1) is not complete and is not in due form. It is a 3-page document but with several items left unfilled or left blank, like the day the document was supposed to be entered into, the tax account numbers of the persons appearing as signatories to the document and the names of the witnesses. In other words, it was not witnessed by any one. More importantly, it was not notarized. While the name Ramon E. Rodrigo, appeared typed in the Acknowledgement, it was not signed by him (Exhs. G, G-1, G-4).

 

The questioned deed was supposedly executed in January, 1978. Defendant [petitioner herein] Catindig testified that his brother Francisco Catindig was with him when plaintiff [respondent herein] signed the document. The evidence, however, shows that Francisco Catindig died on January 1, 1978 as certified to by the Office of the Municipal Civil Registrar of Malolos, Bulacan and the Parish Priest of Sta. Maria Assumpta Parish, Bulacan, Bulacan.

 

The document mentions 49,130 square meters, as the area sold by plaintiff [respondent herein] and her two (2) children to defendant [petitioner herein] Catindig. But this is the entire area of the property as appearing in the title and they are not the only owners. The other owner is Rosendo Meneses, Jr. [stepson of herein respondent] whose name does not appear in the document. The declaration of defendant [petitioner herein] Catindig that Rosendo Meneses, Jr. likewise sold his share of the property to him in another document does not inspire rational belief. This other document was not presented in evidence and Rosendo Meneses, Jr., did not testify, if only to corroborate defendant's [petitioner herein] claim.[6]

 

The Court also finds no compelling reason to depart from the court a quo's finding that respondent never received the consideration stipulated in the simulated deed of sale, thus:

 

Defendant [petitioner herein] Catindig declared that plaintiff [respondent herein] and her children signed the instrument freely and voluntarily and that the consideration of P150,000.00 as so stated in the document was paid by him to plaintiff [respondent herein]. However, it is not denied that the title to this property is still in the name of Rosendo Meneses, Sr., and the owner's duplicate copy of the title is still in the possession of the plaintiff [respondent herein]. If defendant [petitioner herein] Catindig was really a legitimate buyer of the property who paid the consideration with good money, why then did he not register the document of sale or had it annotated at the back of the title, or better still, why then did he not have the title in the name of Rosendo Meneses, Sr. canceled so that a new title can be issued in his name? After all, he claims that Rosendo Meneses, Jr. [stepson of herein respondent] also sold his share of the property to him. This will make him the owner of the entire property. But the owner's duplicate copy of the title remains in the possession of the plaintiff [respondent herein] and no evidence was presented to show that at anytime from 1978, he ever attempted to get it from her. Equally telling is defendant's (Catindig) failure to pay the real estate taxes for the property from 1978 up to the present. x x x[7]

 

 

It is a well-entrenched rule that where the deed of sale states that the purchase price has been paid but in fact has never been paid, the deed of sale is null and void ab initio for lack of consideration. Moreover, Article 1471 of the Civil Code, provides that if the price is simulated, the sale is void, which applies to the instant case, since the price purportedly paid as indicated in the contract of sale was simulated for no payment was actually made.[8]

Since it was well established that the Deed of Sale is simulated and, therefore void, petitioners claim that respondent's cause of action is one for annulment of contract, which already prescribed, is unavailing, because only voidable contracts may be annulled. On the other hand, respondent's defense for the declaration of the inexistence of the contract does not prescribe.[9]

Besides, it must be emphasized that this case is one for recovery of possession, also known as accion publiciana, which is a plenary action for recovery of possession in an ordinary civil proceeding, in order to determine the better and legal right to possess, independently of title.[10] The objective of the plaintiffs in accion publiciana is to recover possession only, not ownership. 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.[11]

 

Thus, even if we sustain petitioner Catindig's arguments and rule that the Deed of Sale is valid, this would still not help petitioners' case. It is undisputed that the subject property is covered by TCT No. T-1749, registered in the name of respondent's husband. On the other hand, petitioner Catindig's claim of ownership is based on a Deed of Sale. In Pascual v. Coronel,[12] the Court held that as against the registered owners and the holder of an unregistered deed of sale, it is the former who has a better right to possess. In that case, the court held that:

 

Even if we sustain the petitioner's 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 deeds of sale of respondents. x x x

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-vis the contested unregistered Deed of Sale. x x x[13]

 

There is even more reason to apply this doctrine here, because the subject Deed of Sale is not only unregistered, it is undated and unnotarized.

 

Further, it is a fundamental principle in land registration that the certificate of title serves as evidence of an indefeasible and incontrovertible title to the property in favor of the person whose name appears therein.[14] It is conclusive evidence with respect to the ownership of the land described therein.[15] Moreover, the age-old rule is that the person who has a Torrens title over a land is entitled to possession thereof.[16]

 

In addition, as the registered owner, respondent's right to evict any person illegally occupying her property is imprescreptible. In the recent case of Gaudencio Labrador, represented by Lulu Labrador Uson, as Attorney-in-Fact v. Sps. Ildefonso Perlas and Pacencia Perlas and Sps. Rogelio Pobre and Melinda Fogata Pobre,[17] the Court held that:

 

As a registered owner, petitioner has a right to eject any person illegally occupying his property.  This right is imprescriptible and can never be barred by laches.  In Bishop v. Court of Appeals, we held, thus:

 

As registered owners of the lots in question, the private respondents have a right to eject any person illegally occupying their property. This right is imprescriptible. Even if it be supposed that they were aware of the petitioners' occupation of the property, and regardless of the length of that possession, the lawful owners have a right to demand the return of their property at any time as long as the possession was unauthorized or merely tolerated, if at all. This right is never barred by laches.[18]

 

 

Petitioner Roxas assailed the Decision and the Resolution of the CA via Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65, when the proper remedy should have been the filing of a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45.

 

While petitioner Roxas claims that the CA committed grave abuse of discretion, this Court finds that the assailed findings of the CA, that Roxas is jointly and severally liable with petitioner Catindig and in not considering him as a lessee in good faith of the subject property, amount to nothing more than errors of judgment, correctible by appeal. When a court, tribunal, or officer has jurisdiction over the person and the subject matter of the dispute, the decision on all other questions arising in the case is an exercise of that jurisdiction. Consequently, all errors committed in the exercise of said jurisdiction are merely errors of judgment. Under prevailing procedural rules and jurisprudence, errors of judgment are not proper subjects of a special civil action for certiorari.[19] Where the issue or question involved affects the wisdom or legal soundness of the decision, and not the jurisdiction of the court to render said decision, the same is beyond the province of a special civil action for certiorari.[20]

 

Settled is the rule that where appeal is available to the aggrieved party, the special civil action for certiorari will not be entertained remedies of appeal and certiorari are mutually exclusive, not alternative or successive.[21] Under Rule 45, decisions, final orders or resolutions of the Court of Appeals in any case, i.e., regardless of the nature of the action or proceedings involved, may be appealed to us by filing a petition for review, which would be but a continuation of the appellate process over the original case. On the other hand, a special civil action under Rule 65 is an independent action based on the specific ground therein provided and, as a general rule, cannot be availed of as a substitute for the lost remedy of an ordinary appeal, including that to be taken under Rule 45.[22] One of the requisites of certiorari is that there be no available appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy. Where an appeal is available, certiorari will not prosper, even if the ground therefor is grave abuse of discretion. Accordingly, when a party adopts an improper remedy, his petition may be dismissed outright.[23]

 

In the present case, the CA issued its Decision and Resolution dated October 22, 2004 and May 20, 2005, respectively, dismissing the appeal filed by petitioner Roxas. Records show that petitioner Roxas received a copy of the May 20, 2005 Resolution of the CA denying the motion for reconsideration on May 30, 2005. Instead of filing a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 within 15 days from receipt thereof,[24] petitioner, in addition to his several motions for extension, waited for almost four months before filing the instant petition on September 22, 2005. Indubitably, the Decision and the Resolution of the CA, as to petitioner Roxas, had by then already become final and executory, and thus, beyond the purview of this Court to act upon.[25]

 

It is settled that a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land.[26] When a decision becomes final and executory, the court loses jurisdiction over the case and not even an appellate court will have the power to review the said judgment. Otherwise, there will be no end to litigation and this will set to naught the main role of courts of justice to assist in the enforcement of the rule of law and the maintenance of peace and order by settling justifiable controversies with finality.[27]

 

Finally, while it is true that this Court, in accordance with the liberal spirit which pervades the Rules of Court and in the interest of justice, may treat a Petition for Certiorari as having been filed under Rule 45, the instant Petition cannot be treated as such, primarily because it was filed way beyond the 15-day reglementary period within which to file the Petition for Review.[28] Though there are instances when certiorari was granted despite the availability of appeal,[29] none of these recognized exceptions were shown to be present in the case at bar.

WHEREFORE, the petition in G.R. No. 165851 is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated October 22, 2004 in CA-G.R. CV No. 65697, which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan in Civil Case No. 320-M-95, is AFFIRMED. The petition in G.R. No. 168875 is DISMISSED. The Decision and the Resolution of the Court of Appeals, dated October 22, 2004 and May 20, 2005, respectively, in CA-G.R. CV No. 65697, which affirmed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan in Civil Case No. 320-M-95, are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

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 Courts Division.

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Second Division, Chairperson

 

 

 
CERTIFICATION

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

 

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 



[1] Penned by Associate Justice Magdangal M. De Leon, with Associate Justices Romeo A. Brawner and Mariano C. Del Castillo, concurring; rollo, (G.R. No. 165851), pp. 27-36; (G.R. No. 168875), pp. 5-14.

[2] Id. at 5-14; id. at 27-36.

[3] Rollo, (G.R. No. 168875), pp. 15-16.

[4] Rollo (G.R. No. 165851), p. 77.

[5] Pascual v. Coronel, G.R. No. 159292, July 12, 2007, 527 SCRA 474, 483.

[6] Rollo (G.R. No. 165851), p. 74.

[7] Id. at 74-75.

[8] Lequin v. Vizconde, G.R. No. 177710, October 12, 2009, 603 SCRA 407, 422.

[9] Civil Code, Art. 1410.

[10] Bejar v. Caluag, G.R. No. 171277, February 17, 2007, 516 SCRA 84, 90.

[11] Asuncion Urieta Vda. de Aguilar, represented by Orlando U. Aguilar v. Spouses Ederlina B. Alfaro and Raul Alfaro, G.R. No. 164402, July 5, 2010.

[12] Supra note 5.

[13] Id. at 484-485.

[14] Caa v. Evangelical Free Church of the Philippines, G.R. No. 157573, February 11, 2008, 544 SCRA 225, 238.

[15] Asuncion Urieta Vda. de Aguilar, represented by Orlando U. Aguilar v. Spouses Ederlina B. Alfaro and Raul Alfaro, supra note 11.

[16] Caa v Evangelical Free Church of the Philippines, supra note 14, at 238-239.

[17] G.R. No. 173900, August 8, 2010.

[18] Id. (Emphasis supplied.)

[19] Sebastian v Hon. Morales, 445 Phil. 595, 608 (2003).

[20] Land Bank of the Phils. v Court of Appeals, 456 Phil. 755, 787 (2003).

[21] Iloilo La Filipina Uygongco Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 170244, November 28, 2007, 539 SCRA 178, 189.

[22] Sable v. People, G.R. No. 177961, April 7, 2009, 584 SCRA 619, 629.

[23] Artistica Ceramica, Inc., Ceralinda, Inc., Cyber Ceramics, Inc. and Millennium, Inc. v. Ciudad Del Carmen Homeowner's Association, Inc. and Bukluran Purok II Residents Association, G.R. Nos. 167583-84, June 16, 2010.

[24] Rule 45, Section 2 states: The petition shall be filed within fifteen (15) days from notice of the judgment, or final order or resolution appealed from or of the denial of the petitioner's motion for new trial or reconsideration filed in due time after notice of the judgment. x x x.

[25] Land Bank of the Phils. v. Court of Appeals, supra note 20, at 791.

[26] Pea v. Government Service Insurance System, G.R. No.159520, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 383, 404.

[27] Estinozo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 150276, February 12, 2008, 544 SCRA 422, 431-432.

[28] Iloilo La Filipina Uygongco Corporation v. Court of Appeals, supra note 21, at 190.

[29] (a) when public welfare and the advancement of public policy dictates; (b) when the broader interest of justice so requires; (c) when the writs issued are null and void; or (d) when the questioned order amounts to an oppressive exercise of judicial authority. (Iloilo La Filipina Uygongco Corporation v. Court of Appeals, supra note 21)