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FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 127549. January 28, 1998

SPOUSES CESAR and RAQUEL STA. MARIA and FLORCERFIDA STA. MARIA, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS, and SPOUSES ARSENIO and ROSLYNN FAJARDO, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

DAVIDE, JR., J.:

This is an appeal under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court from the decision1 of 18 December 1996 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 48473, which affirmed with modification the 30 June 1994 Decision2 of Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court of Bulacan in Civil Case No. 77-M-92 granting the private respondents a right of way through the property of the petitioners.

The antecedent facts, as summarized by the Court of Appeals, are as follows:

Plaintiff spouses Arsenio and Roslynn Fajardo are the registered owners of a piece of land, Lot No. 124 of the Obando Cadastre, containing an area of 1,043 square meters, located at Paco, Obando, Bulacan, and covered by Transfer Certificate Title (TCT) No. T-147729 (M) of the Registry of Deeds of Meycauayan, Bulacan (Exhibit B, p. 153 Orig. Rec.). They acquired said lot under a Deed of Absolute Sale dated February 6, 1992 executed by the vendors Pedro M. Sanchez, et al. (Annex A, Complaint; pp. 7-8 ibid.).

Plaintiffs aforesaid Lot 124 is surrounded by Lot 1 (Psd 45412), a fishpond (Exh. C-5; p. 154, ibid.), on the northeast portion thereof; by Lot 126, owned by Florentino Cruz, on the southeast portion; by Lot 6-a and a portion of Lot 6-b (both Psd-297786) owned respectively by Spouses Cesar and Raquel Sta. Maria and Florcerfida Sta. Maria (Exhs. C-2 and C-3, ibid.), on the southwest; and by Lot 122, owned by the Jacinto family, on the northwest.

On February 17, 1992, plaintiff spouses Fajardo filed a complaint against defendants Cesar and Raquel Sta. Maria or Florcerfida Sta. Maria for the establishment of an easement of right of way. Plaintiffs alleged that their lot, Lot 124, is surrounded by properties belonging to other persons, including those of the defendants; that since plaintiffs have no adequate outlet to the provincial road, an easement of a right of way passing through either of the alternative defendants properties which are directly abutting the provincial road would be plaintiffs only convenient, direct and shortest access to and from the provincial road; that plaintiffs predecessors-in-interest have been passing through the properties of defendants in going to and from their lot; that defendants mother even promised plaintiffs predecessors-in-interest to grant the latter an easement of right of way as she acknowledged the absence of an access from their property to the road; and that alternative defendants, despite plaintiffs request for a right of way and referral of the dispute to the barangay officials, refused to grant them an easement. Thus, plaintiffs prayed that an easement of right of way on the lots of defendants be established in their favor. They also prayed for damages, attorneys fees and costs of suit.

Defendants, instead of filing an answer, filed a motion to dismiss (pp. 41-45, ibid.) on the ground that the lower court has no jurisdiction to hear the case since plaintiffs failed to refer the matter to the barangay lupon in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 1508. The lower court, however, in its Order dated May 18, 1992, denied said motion on the premise that there was substantial compliance with the law.

On May 25, 1992, defendants filed a Notice of Appeal to the Supreme Court of the questioned order of the lower court denying their motion to dismiss, under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (p. 54, ibid.). On June 24, 1992, the lower court denied the notice of appeal for lack of merit (p. 86, ibid.).

In the meantime, defendants filed a petition for review on certiorari of the lower courts Order dated May 18, 1992 (pp. 64-84, ibid.). In an Order dated July 8, 1992, the Third Division of the Supreme Court denied said petition for failure to comply with Revised Circular Nos. 1-88 and Circular No. 28-01 (p. 97, ibid.). Defendants motion for reconsideration was likewise denied with finality on July 20, 1992 (p. 96, ibid.).

Consequently, defendants filed their answer to the court below where they alleged that the granting of an easement in favor of plaintiffs would cause them great damage and inconvenience; and that there is another access route from plaintiffs lot to the main road through the property of Florentino Cruz which was likewise abutting the provincial road and was being offered for sale. By way of counterclaim, defendants prayed for damages and attorneys fees.

The parties not having settled their dispute during the pre-trial (p.120, Orig. Record), the court directed that an ocular inspection be conducted of the subject property, designating the branch clerk of court as its commissioner. In time, an Ocular Inspection Report dated December 3, 1992 (Exhs. J and J-1) was submitted. After trial on the merits, the lower court rendered the assailed decision granting plaintiffs prayer for an easement of right of way on defendants properties.3cräläwvirtualibräry

The trial court found that based on the Ocular Inspection Report there was no other way through which the private respondents could establish a right of way in order to reach the provincial road except by traversing directly the property of the petitioners. It further found that (a) no significant structure, save for a wall or fence about three feet high, would be adversely affected; (b) there was sufficient vacant space of approximately 11 meters between petitioners houses; and (c) petitioners property could provide the shortest route from the provincial road to the private respondents property. Consequently, the trial court granted the easement prayed for by the private respondents in a decision dated 30 June 1994,4 whose decretal portion reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered the Court orders that a right-of-way be constructed on the defendants property covered by TCT No. 0-6244 of about 75 sq. meters, 25 sq. meters shall be taken from the lot of Florcerfida Sta. Maria and 50 sq. meters from the property of Cesar Sta. Maria to be established along lines 1-2 of lot 6-c and along lines 3-4 of lot 6-b and to indemnify the owners thereof in the total amount of P3, 750.00 (P1, 250.00 goes to Florcerfida Sta. Maria and P2,500.00 to Cesar Sta. Maria) and to reconstruct the fence to be destroyed in the manner it was at the time of the filing of this action.

The petitioners seasonably appealed from the aforementioned decision to the Court of Appeals, which docketed the case as CA-G.R. CV No. 48473.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the private respondents had sufficiently established the existence of the four requisites for compulsory easement of right of way on petitioners property, to wit: (1) private respondents property was, as revealed by the Ocular Inspection Report, surrounded by other immovables owned by different individuals and was without an adequate outlet to a public highway; (2) the isolation of private respondents property was not due to their own acts, as it was already surrounded by other immovables when they purchased it; (3) petitioners property would provide the shortest way from private respondents property to the provincial road, and this way would cause the least prejudice because no significant structure would be injured thereby; and (4) the private respondents were willing to pay the corresponding damages provided for by law if the right of way would be granted.

Accordingly, in its decision5 of 18 December 1996, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts decision, but modified the property valuation by increasing it from P50 to P2,000 per square meter.

The petitioners forthwith filed this petition for review on certiorari based on the following assignment of errors:

I.

WHETHER OR NOT A COMPULSORY EASEMENT OF RIGHT OF WAY CAN BE ESTABLISHED IN THE LIGHT OF THE DOCTRINE LAID DOWN BY THE HON. SUPREME COURT IN COSTABELLA CORPORATION VS. COURT OF APPEALS, 193 SCRA 333, 341 WHICH HELD THAT [FOR] THE FAILURE OF PRIVATE RESPONDENTS TO SHOW THAT THE ISOLATION OF THEIR PROPERTY WAS NOT DUE TO THEIR PERSONAL OR THEIR PREDECESSORS-IN-INTERESTS OWN ACTS, THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO A COMPULSORY EASEMENT OF RIGHT OF WAY.

II.

WHETHER OR NOT A COMPULSORY RIGHT OF WAY CAN BE GRANTED TO PRIVATE RESPONDENTS WHO HAVE TWO OTHER EXISTING PASSAGE WAYS OTHER THAN THAT OF PETITIONERS AND AN ALTERNATIVE VACANT LOT FRONTING THE PROVINCIAL ROAD ALSO ADJACENT TO PRIVATE RESPONDENTS PROPERTY, WHICH CAN BE USED IN GOING TO AND FROM PRIVATE RESPONDENTS PROPERTY.

III.

RESPONDENT HON. COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN MAKING A PORTION OF ITS STATEMENT OF FACTS FROM ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT AND NOT FROM THE EVIDENCE ON RECORD.

IV.

RESPONDENT HON. COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT PRIVATE RESPONDENTS HAVE NO ADEQUATE OUTLET TO A PUBLIC HIGHWAY WHICH INFERENCE DRAWN FROM FACTS WAS MANIFESTLY MISTAKEN.6cräläwvirtualibräry

The first, second, and fourth assigned errors involve questions of fact. Settled is the rule that the jurisdiction of this Court in cases brought before it from the Court of Appeals via Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is limited to reviewing errors of law. Findings of fact of the latter are conclusive, except in the following instances: (1) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises, or conjectures; (2) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd, or impossible; (3) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when in making its findings the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee; (7) when the findings are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioners main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent; and (10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record.7

A perusal of the pleadings and the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals, as well as of the decision of the trial court, yields no ground for the application of any of the foregoing exceptions. All told, the findings of fact of both courts satisfied the following requirements for an estate to be entitled to a compulsory servitude of right of way under the Civil Code, to wit:

1. the dominant estate is surrounded by other immovables and has no adequate outlet to a public highway (Art. 649, par. 1);

2. there is payment of proper indemnity (Art. 649, par. 1);

3. the isolation is not due to the acts of the proprietor of the dominant estate (Art. 649, last par.); and

4. the right of way claimed is at the point least prejudicial to the servient estate; and insofar as consistent with this rule, where the distance from the dominant estate to a public highway may be the shortest (Art. 650).8cräläwvirtualibräry

As to such requisites, the Court of Appeals made the following disquisitions:

Anent the first requisite, there is no dispute that the plaintiffs-appellees property is surrounded by other immovables owned by different individuals. The ocular inspection report submitted to the lower court reveals that:

The property of the plaintiffs, spouses Arsenio and Roslynn Fajardo, is completely surrounded with adobe fence without any point of egress and ingress to the national road. Said plaintiffs property containing an area of 1,043 square meters and covered by OCT No. 0-6244 of the Registry of Deeds of Bulacan was situated directly behind defendants property which abuts the national road. Defendants, spouses Cesar and Racquel Sta. Maria, are the absolute owners of the parcel of land with an area of 537 square meters and embraced under TCT No. T-37.763(M) situated on the left side abutting the national road with their house thereon made of wood and hollow blocks, while defendant Florcerfida Sta. Maria is the absolute owner of a parcel of land with a similar area of 537 square meters and covered by TCT No. T-37.762(M) situated on the right side and likewise abutting the national road with an impressive house thereon of modern vintage made of strong materials. As depicted in the rough sketch hereto attached, plaintiffs have absolutely no means of ingress and egress to their property as the same is completely isolated by properties owned by other persons. On the left side is the property of Florentino Cruz, on the right side is the property reportedly owned by the Jacintos; and on the front portion are properties owned by defendants. x x x

(Ocular Inspection Report, p. 135, Orig. Rec.)

Plaintiffs-appellees property is likewise without adequate outlet to a public highway. The existing passage way for people (daang tao) at the back of plaintiffs-appellees property leading to the provincial road (TSN, May 17, 1993, p. 12) cannot be considered an adequate outlet for purposes of establishing an easement. Article 651 of the Code provides that (t)he width of the easement of right of way shall be that which is sufficient for the needs of the dominant estate, and may accordingly be changed from time to time. Thus in the case of Larracas vs. Del Rio (37 Official Gazette 287), this Court had occasion to rule that it is not necessary for a person, like his neighbors, to content himself with a footpath and deny himself the use of an automobile. So in an age when motor cars are a vital necessity, the dominant proprietor has a right to demand a driveway for his automobile, and not a mere lane or pathway (Cited in Tolentino, ibid., p. 391).

The second requisite for the establishment of an easement of right way, i.e., payment of indemnity, is likewise present in this case. Plaintiff-appellee spouse Roslynn Fajardo testified on direct examination that they are willing to pay the corresponding damages provided for by law if granted the right of way (TSN, November 5, 1992, p. 11).

The third requisite is that the isolation of plaintiffs-appellees property should not have been due to their own acts. In the case under consideration, the isolation of their lot is not due to plaintiffs acts. The property they purchased was already surrounded by other immovables leaving them no adequate ingress or egress to a public highway.

Going now to the fourth requisite of least prejudice and shortest distance, We agree with the lower court that this twin elements have been complied with in establishing the easement of right of way on defendants-appellants properties.

It has been commented upon that where there are several tenements surrounding the dominant estate, and the easement may be established on any of them, the one where the way is shortest and will cause the least damage should be chosen. But if these two circumstances do not concur in a single tenement, the way which will cause the least damage should be used, even if it will not be the shortest. And if the conditions of the various tenements are the same, all the adjoining owners should be cited and experts utilized to determine where the easement shall be established (Tolentino, ibid., pp. 108-109, citing Casals Colldecarrera).

In the case at bar, the ocular inspection disclosed that there are three options open to the plaintiffs-appellees as a route to reach the national road, to wit:

(1) To traverse directly through defendants property which is the shortest route of approximately 20 to 25 meters away from the national road;

(2) To purchase a right of way from the adjoining property of Florentino Cruz on the left side of their property; and

(3) To negotiate with Jacinto family on the right side of their property.

In all instances, no significant structures would be adversely affected. There is sufficient vacant space between defendants houses of approximately 11 meters. The distance of defendant Florcerfidas house with the adjoining adobe wall separating that of the property of defendants Cesar and Racquel Sta. Maria is about 4 meters, while the space between the adobe wall and that of the latters house is about 7 meters or a total of 11 meters vacant space for purposes of a right of way. On the other hand, plaintiffs may negotiate with a right of way with Florentino Cruz on the left side of their property although the same is quite circuitous. Lastly, the option through the property of the Jacinto on the right side is very circuitous and longer. The route involves a total of about 50 yards as it has to go straight to the right of about 35 yards and turn left of about another 15 yards before reaching the common right of way.

(Ocular Inspection report, pp. 135-136, ibis.)

Among the three (3) possible servient estates, it is clear that defendants-appellants property would afford the shortest distance from plaintiffs-appellees property to the provincial road. Moreover, it is the least prejudicial since as found by the lower court, (i)t appears that there would be no significant structures to be injured in the defendants property and the right-of-way to be constructed thereon would be the shortest of all the alternative routes pointed to by the defendants (p. 4, RTC, Decision; p. 223, ibid.).

Petitioners reliance on Costabella Corporation v. Court of Appeals9 to support their first assigned error is misplaced. In said case we reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals granting a compulsory easement of a right of way to the private respondents therein because of the absence of any showing that the private respondents had established the existence of the four requisites mandated by law. As to the third requisite, we explicitly pointed out; thus: Neither have the private respondents been able to show that the isolation of their property was not due to their personal or their predecessors-in-interest's own acts. In the instant case, the Court of Appeals have found the existence of the requisites. The petitioners, however, insist that private respondents predecessors-in-interest have, through their own acts of constructing concrete fences at the back and on the right side of the property, isolated their property from the public highway. The contention does not impress because even without the fences private respondents property remains landlocked by neighboring estates belonging to different owners.

Under the second and fourth assigned errors, the petitioners try to convince us that there are two other existing passage ways over the property of Cruz and over that of Jacinto, as well as a daang tao, for private respondents use. Our examination of the records yields otherwise. Said lots of Cruz and Jacinto do not have existing passage ways for the private respondents to use. Moreover, the Ocular Inspection Report10 reveals that the suggested alternative ways through Cruzs or Jacintos properties are longer and circuitous than that through petitioners property. This is also clear from the Sketch Plan11 submitted by the private respondents wherein it is readily seen that the lots of Cruz and Jacinto are only adjacent to that of private respondents unlike that of petitioners which is directly in front of private respondents property in relation to the public highway.

Under Article 650 of the Civil Code, the easement of right of way shall be established at the point least prejudicial to the servient estate, and, insofar as consistent with this rule, where the distance from the dominant estate to a public highway may be the shortest. Where there are several tenements surrounding the dominant estate, and the easement may be established on any of them, the one where the way is shortest and will cause the least damage should be chosen.12 The conditions of least damage and shortest distance are both established in one tenement -- petitioners property.

As to the daang tao at the back of private respondents property, it must be stressed that under Article 651 the width of the easement of right of way shall be that which is sufficient for the needs of the dominant estate, and may accordingly be changed from time to time. Therefore, the needs of the dominant estate determine the width of the easement.13 The needs of private respondents property could hardly be served by this daang tao located at the back and which is bordered by a fishpond.14cräläwvirtualibräry

The third assigned error is without basis and is nothing but a misreading of the challenged decision. The Court of Appeals did not declare as established facts the allegations of the complaint referred to by the petitioner. It merely made a brief summary of what were alleged in the complaint as part of its narration of the antecedents of the case on appeal.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review is DENIEDand the challenged decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED in toto.

Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, Vitug, and Kapunan, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo , 18-29. Per Martin, Jr. F., J., with Morales, C. and Amin, O., JJ, concurring.

2 Original Record (OR), Civil Case No. 77-M-92, 220-224. Per Judge Camilo O. Montesa, Jr.

3 Rollo , 19-21.

4 Supra note 2.

5 Supra note 1.

6 Rollo , 7.

7 Medina v. Asistio, 191 SCRA 218, 223-224 [1990].

8 Quimen v. Court of Appeals, 257 SCRA 163, 169 [1996]; Vda. de Baltazar v. Court of Appeals, 245 SCRA 333, 337 [1995]; Floro v. Llenado, 244 SCRA 713, 723 [1995]; Francisco v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 177 SCRA 527, 533 [1989]; Jose C. Vitug, Compendium of Civil Law and Jurisprudence, 330 (1993).

9 193 SCRA 333 [1991].

10 OR, 135-136.

11 Id ., 17.

12 2 Arturo M. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines 355 (1983).

13 Encarnacion v. Court of Appeals, 195 SCRA 74, 79 [1991]

14 Lot Psd 45412; OR, 17.




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