G.R. No. 119714 May 29, 1997
SALVADOR S. ESQUIVIAS and ALICIA DOMALAON-ESQUIVIAS, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS, JOSE G. DOMALAON, ELENA G. DOMALAON and REGISTER OF DEEDS OF SORSOGON, respondents.
A 6,270-SQUARE METER PARCEL OF LAND in the poblacion of Gubat, Sorsogon, 1 is the subject of this action for reconveyance and damages.
Julia Galpo de Domalaon was the owner of a piece of land with an area of 1,260 square meters and the two-storey house standing thereon. In 1950 she extrajudicially constituted this property into a family home. Alicia Domalaon-Esquivias, Elena G. Domalaon and Jose G. Domalaon, among other children, were named beneficiaries thereof. 2
On 11 March 1974 a Deed of Absolute Sale was executed by Julia Galpo de Domalaon in favor of her son-in-law, Atty. Salvador Esquivias, husband of Alicia Domalaon. Subject matter of the deed was the property constituting the family home - the two-storey house and the residential lot on which it stood, more particularly described in the deed as -
On 30 March 1977 the family home was dissolved by Julia Galpo de Domalaon with the conformity of all her children. Afterwards, another deed of sale was executed by her dated 12 April 1977 transferring to Jose G. Domalaon the house and lot which once constituted the family home. The deed indicated that the property being sold was the entire 1,260 square meters. 4 However, in the Affidavit of Confirmatory Waiver of Rights, 5 the area was increased to 2,456 square meters.
Prior to the sale of the property to him, or on 21 October 1976, Jose already filed two (2) applications for Free Patent in his name covering the entire property. When his first application was approved, a certificate of title 6 was issued on 11 February 1981. His rights over the other application covering the rest of the property were relinquished by him in favor of his sister Elena. 7 It turned out later that Elena G. Domalaon also succeeded in her application for Free Patent and a certificate of title was issued in her name on 18 March 1985. 8
Alleging that it was only in 1981 that she came to know that the document she signed in favor of Atty. Salvador S. Esquivias in 1974 was actually a deed of sale, Julia Galpo de Domalaon filed a disbarment case against Atty. Esquivias. According to her, being a son-in-law and lawyer of the Domalaons, Atty. Esquivias took advantage of her trust and confidence and poor eyesight by representing that the document was a sale of her land in favor of all her children. But the Solicitor General, who investigated the case, recommended its dismissal for lack of merit thus -
This Court adopted the above Recommendation and dismissed the case. 10
Upon discovering that the subject lands were already titled in the names of Jose and Elena, Atty. Esquivias and his wife filed an action for reconveyance and damages before the Regional Trial Court of Sorsogon. In their complaint they claimed the entire 6,270 square meters and not just the house and lot they acquired by purchase from Julia. According to them, when Silvestre Domalaon, husband of Julia, was still alive he promised to transfer the entire property in their names as payment of his accumulated debts to them. Thus, they declared the property in their names and paid the taxes thereon.
After trial, the court ruled in favor of plaintiffs thus -
Not satisfied with the decision, respondents Jose G. Domalaon and Elena G. Domalaon elevated the case to the Court of Appeals which reversed the decision of the trial court and dismissed the case on the basis of its finding that there was no compliance with the mandatory requirements of Art. 222 of the New Civil Code; hence, the instant petition.
Three (3) issues need to be resolved: (a) Was the appellate court correct in holding that no earnest effort towards a compromise between members of the same family was made, in contravention of Art. 222 of the Civil Code? (b) Did the Report/Recommendation of the Solicitor General in the disbarment case, which was adopted by the Supreme Court, rule on the validity of the sale executed by Julia Domalaon? (c) Who has a better right over the subject property, the Esquiviases or the Domalaons?
Petitioners contend that Atty. Esquivias is only a brother-in-law of Jose and Elena Domalaon. Atty. Esquivias is not a member of the family of his wife and is outside the scope and coverage of the law requiring that the same members of a family should exert efforts to bring about a compromise before the commencement of a litigation.
We agree with petitioners. Article 222 of the Civil Code provides that no suit shall be filed or maintained between members of the same family unless it should appear that earnest efforts towards a compromise have bee made but the same have failed. The reason for the law is that a lawsuit between family members generates deeper bitterness than one between strangers. Hence, it is necessary that every effort should be made towards a compromise before a litigation is allowed to breed hate and passion in the family. 11
But this requirement in Art. 222 of the Civil Code applies only to suits between or among members of the same family. The phrase "between members of the same family" should be construed in the light of Art. 217 of the Civil Code 12 under which "family relations" include only those (a) between husband and wife, (b) between parent and child, (c) among other ascendants and their descendants, and (d) among brothers and sisters.
As correctly pointed out by petitioners, Atty. Salvador S. Esquivias is not included in the enumeration of who are members of the same family, as he is only a brother-in-law of respondents Jose and Elena by virtue of his marriage to their sister Alicia. His relationship with respondents is based on affinity and not on consanguinity. Consequently, insofar as he is concerned, he is a stranger with respect to the family of his wife and, as such, the mandatory requirement of "earnest effort toward a compromise" does not apply to him. In Magbaleta v. Gonong 13 we ruled that "efforts to compromise" are not a jurisdictional prerequisite for the maintenance of an action whenever a stranger to the family is a party thereto, whether as necessary or indispensable one. An alien to the family may not be willing to suffer the inconvenience of, much less relish, the delay and the complications that wranglings between and among relatives more often than not entail. Besides, it is neither practical nor fair that the rights of a family be made to depend on a stranger who just happens to have innocently acquired some interest in a property by virtue of his affinity to the parties. Contrary to the ruling of the Court of Appeals, we find no reason to give Art. 222 a broader scope than its literal import.
On the second issue, petitioner Salvador S. Esquivias postulates that the validity of the deed of sale in his favor had already been sustained in the disbarment proceedings against him. As a consequence, the facts established therein have become the law of the case and can no longer be disturbed by the Court of Appeals.
The argument is flawed. In the case of In re Almacen 14 we ruled -
For this reason, whatever has been decided in the disbarment case cannot be a source of right that may be enforced in another action, like this case before us.
Moreover, what was decided in the disbarment proceedings was the issue of whether Atty. Esquivias violated his oath by defrauding and deceiving the complainant into conveying to him the properties in question, and not the issue of the validity of the deed of sale. When the Solicitor General made a declaration that the deed was valid, it was only because the same was incidentally necessary for the prompt resolution of the case. Indeed, in matters involving questions of genuineness and due execution of documents purporting to convey properties of considerable value, no less than an action instituted for that purpose before a court of competent jurisdiction is necessary, rather than a mere administrative proceeding, like a disbarment case, where the procedure followed is, more often than not, summary, and where the question on validity of the instrument is merely a collateral and not the main issue.
Consequently, the judgment on the disbarment proceedings, which incidentally touched on the issue of the validity of the deed of sale, cannot be considered conclusive in another action where the validity of the same deed of sale is merely one of the main issues. At best, such judgment may only be given weight when introduced as evidence, but in no case does it bind the court in the second action.
We are convinced, however, that the sale in favor of Atty. Esquivias was made by Julia with full knowledge of the facts and there appears nothing on record to warrant a declaration of nullity of the deed from the standpoint of fraud.
It must be emphasized that the bare existence of confidential relation between grantor and grantee does not, standing alone, raise the presumption of fraud. A deed will not be set aside merely because the grantor and grantee sustained a confidential relationship where the evidence shows no fraud or abuse of confidence. 15 Besides, if Julia really had a cause of action against Atty. Esquivias, why did she file only a disbarment case instead of the more appropriate action for annulment of contract?
As regards the third issue, this Court notes the glaring irregularities that attended the transfer of the land in question to Jose G. Domalaon and Elena G. Domalaon: First, the land was sold by Julia to Jose on 12 April 1977. 16 But even prior to that date, or on 21 October 1976 , Jose already applied for Free Patent in his name covering the land; 17 Second, during the disbarment proceedings against Atty. Esquivias, Elena admitted on cross-examination that she went to the Register of Deeds of Sorsogon to register another deed of sale - one executed by her mother in favor of her brother Jose over the same house and lot - ahead of the deed of sale executed in favor of Atty. Esquivias.
These circumstances confirm the belief that there indeed was collusion among the Domalaons to defeat the valid and legitimate claim of the Esquiviases by consolidating the ownership of the entire property in the names of Jose G. Domalaon and Elena G. Domalaon. They likewise belie the Domalaons' profession of ignorance with respect to the existence of the first sale.
Logically, while the deed of sale in favor of Jose G. Domalaon was registered earlier, the same cannot prevail over the deed of sale in favor of Atty. Esquivias because private respondent knew of the prior sale to petitioners, and such knowledge tainted his registration with bad faith. 20 To merit protection under Art. 1544, second par., 21 the second buyer must act in good faith in registering his deed.
While we are sustaining petitioners' rights over the house and lot subject of the 11 March 1974 deed of sale, we cannot find any justification to likewise award to them the rest of the property. They presented no evidence other than their self-serving assertion that the entire property was promised to them by the late Silvestre Domalaon. The fact that such promise was not contradicted by private respondents does not prove that their claim over the entire property is valid and subsisting. Furthermore, although the entire property was declared by petitioners in their names for taxation purposes, it does not by itself constitute conclusive evidence of ownership. 22
Finally, while the certificates of title in the names of Jose G. Domalaon and Elena G. Domalaon are indefeasible, unassailable and binding against the whole world, including the government itself, they do not create or vest title. They merely confirm or record title already existing and vested. They cannot be used to protect a usurper from the true owner, nor can they be used as a shield for the commission of fraud; neither does they permit one to enrich himself at the expense of others. 23
Although a review of the decree of registration is no longer available on account of the expiration of the one-year period from entry thereof, an equitable remedy is still available to the Esquiviases who were wrongfully deprived of their property, i.e., to compel Jose G. Domalaon in whose name the house and lot in question had been wrongfully registered, to reconvey the property to the Esquiviases, provided that the same has not yet been transferred to innocent persons for value. 24
The registered property is deemed to be held in trust for the real owners by the person in whose name it has been registered. In this action for reconveyance, the decree of registration is respected as incontrovertible. What is sought instead is the transfer of the property, in this case, the title thereof, which has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in another person's name, to its rightful and legal owners. 25
WHEREFORE, the Decision of respondent Court of Appeals reversing that of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 54, Gubat, Sorsogon, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the Decision of the latter court in favor of petitioners as quoted in pages four (4) and five (5) hereof is REINSTATED and AFFIRMED. Costs against private respondents.
Vitug, Kapunan and Hermosisima Jr., JJ., concur.
Padilla, J., is on leave.
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