G.R. No. 126363 June 26, 1998
THE CONGREGATION OF THE RELIGIOUS OF THE VIRGIN MARY, Petitioner, v. THE COURT OF APPEALS and SPOUSES JEROME and TERESA PROTASIO, respondents.
Petitioner, The Congregation Of The Religious Of The Virgin Mary, has filed this petition for review on certiorari, urging us to reverse the decision 1 of the Court of Appeals dated September 12, 1996, in CA-G.R. CV No. 43311, entitled "SPS. JEROME and TERESA PROTASIO, Plaintiffs-Appellees, versus, THE RELIGIOUS OF THE VIRGIN MARY, Defendant-Appellant." The decision affirmed the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City in Civil Case No. 29,960-91, ordering the petitioner to return the possession of the disputed land to the respondents-spouses and to pay them damages.
The facts of this case, as found by the respondent court, 2 are as follows:
On December 26, 1964, Gervacio Serapio, the grandfather of herein respondents-spouses Jerome and Teresa Protasio, sold to herein petitioner, the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, two (2) lots identified as Lot No. 5-A and Lot No. 5-C which were covered by TCT Nos. 14834 and 14835, respectively. In between Lot No. 5-A and Lot No. 5-C is Lot No. 5-B. Petitioner did not buy it when it was offered for sale by Gervacio Serapio. In 1978, Gervacio died and his estate consisting of several parcels of land was settled extra-judicially among his heirs.
In October of 1989, respondents-spouses purchased Lot No. 5-B from the heirs of Gervacio Serapio. Accordingly, TCT No. 148595 was issued in their name. Sometime in November of 1989, respondents-spouses had the subject Lot No. 5-B surveyed and they discovered that 664 square meters of their 858 square meters property was fenced and occupied by petitioner. They also found out that a building for the boys' quarters and a portion of petitioner's gymnasium were constructed inside Lot No. 5-B. The encroachment by petitioner on respondents-spouses land was made without the latter's knowledge and consent. Despite repeated demands by respondents-spouses, petitioner failed and refused to (1) restore to the spouses possession of the encroached property; (2) demolish the improvements constructed thereon, and (3) pay damages and back rentals. Thus, on September 23, 1991, a complaint for recovery of possession of real property damages, back rentals and attorney's fees was filed by respondents-spouses against the petitioner. The complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. 20,960-91 of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 15. In answer to the complaint, petitioner admitted that it occupies part of the litigated property but averred that Lot No. 5-B was supposed to be a road lot that would give their Lots 5-A and 5-C means of entry and egress to the public road and, therefore, was beyond the commerce of man. Petitioner further claims that respondents-spouses, as successors-in-interest of Gervacio Serapio, have the obligation to respect the perpetual use of Lot No. 5-B ceded to it by Serapio.
After trial on the merits, the trials court rendered judgment in favor of respondents-spouses and against the petitioner. It rejected petitioner's claim of being a builder in good faith of the improvements it introduced on the disputed lot of respondents-spouses. The dispositive portion of the decision dated July 30, 1993 reads:
Upon appeal by petitioner to the respondent court, the latter affirmed in toto the judgment of the trial court.
Still dissatisfied, petitioner now comes to us via the present petition, assailing the respondent court's decision on the following grounds:
The above-quoted errors allegedly committed by the respondent court call for a review of its findings of facts. As a general rule, the re-examination of the evidence submitted by the contending parties during the trial of case is not a function that this Court normally undertakes inasmuch as the findings of facts of the respondent court are generally binding and conclusive on the Supreme Court. 5 The jurisdiction of this Court in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court is limited to reviewing only errors of law, 6 not of fact, unless the factual findings complained of are devoid of support by the evidence on record or the assailed judgment is based on misapprehension of facts. 7
Petitioner contends that its case should be treated as an exception to the said general rule since the respondent court "overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion." 8
Let us examine these "relevant facts" which the respondent court allegedly overlooked when it rendered the assailed decision.
First. Petitioner maintains that Gervacio Serapio, the original owner of the land in question (Lot 5-B), had in his lifetime represented, committed and warranted that the said lot would be for petitioner's perpetual use as a road lot, it being the only access to the public road for Lot 5-A and 5-C, and to each other. 9
In support of this posture, petitioner cited the document entitled "Agreement Of Purchase And Sale" 10 dated July 8, 1959, executed between Gervacio Serapio and petitioner, which Agreement shows a sketch attached thereto as Annex "A" 11 indicating the locating of the two (2) lots subject of the Agreement and two (2) proposed roads, the Simeon de Jesus St. and Padre Faura St. (which is the disputed Lot B). Petitioner argues that "without that map (sketch) and the implicit assurance that goes with it, there could not have been a sale." 12
There is nothing significant in the said sketch which would justify a reversal of the findings and conclusions reached by the respondent court. It is merely a sketch of the location of the two (2) lots subject of the sale. There is no express or implied agreement in said annex containing the sketch which would confirm petitioner's claim that Geronimo Serapio "had ceded to the petitioner the perpetual use of Lot 5-B." If petitioner's claim was true, then the same could have easily been inserted as an additional agreement between the parties. That it was not made so, only shows that petitioner's claim is nothing but a mere conjecture, which has zero evidentiary weight. Section 9, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Court provides in part that where, as here, "the terms of an agreement have been reduced to writing, it is considered as containing all the terms agreed upon and there can be, between the parties and their successors in interest, no evidence of such terms other than the contents of the written agreement." Simply put, any oral evidence of an agreement should be excluded when after all, the existing agreement is already in writing. 13 Thus, we are not prepared to disturb the following findings and conclusions of the respondent court:
Even if we were to accept as true petitioner's stance that Lot 5-B was intended by Gervacio Serapio as a road right of way for petitioner's perpetual use, still a grant of a right of way in favor of petitioner does not legally entitle it to occupy part of the said lot which is registered in repondents-spouses' name, more so to introduce permanent improvements thereon such as a gymnasium and a boys' quarters/dormitory.
Thus, what is actually at issue here is not whether the petitioner could use Lot 5-B in question as a road, but rather whether the petitioner could legally possess/occupy part of the said lot. This is, in fact, the only issue as agreed upon by the contending parties during the pre-trial conference of this case before the trial court. 15 As discussed earlier, petitioner has no right whatsover to possess and construct permanent structures on the questioned land owned by respondent-spouses. Petitioner admits in its answer to the complaint that it introduced improvement on the subject lot without the consent and knowledge of respondent-spouses. 16 It is thus a builder in bad faith. Again, we find no reversible error in the following ruling of the respondent court:
Second. Petitioner contends that the respondent court struck down its defense of laches "with a grossly erroneous and unfair declaration that since the private respondents themselves did not sleep on their rights, there could be no laches." 18 Suffice it to state that no evidence was presented by petitioner during the trial to prove that the improvements constructed on the subject property were made during the lifetime of Gervacio Serapio, nor that Serapio, his heirs or respondents-spouses were aware of, much less tolerated, the said structures so as to make them guilty of laches proper:
Third. Petitioner claims that the respondent court committed grave abuse of discretion when it awarded respondents-spouses actual damages in the form of back rentals of P15,000.00 a month, plus the legal rate of interest, to be reckoned from January, 1991, without proof to support the same. We have examined the respondents-spouses' complaint and the testimony of respondent Jerome Protasio on the matter of back rentals prayed for in the complaint, and we find no factual basis how such award was arrived at. Thus, we have to discard such award of damages. A party is entitled to an adequate compensation for such pecuniary loss actually suffered by him as he has duly prove. 20 Such damages, to be recoverable, must not only be capable of proof, but must actually be proved with a reasonable degree of certainty. 21 These damages cannot be presumed, 22 and the courts in making such award of damages must point out specific facts which could afford a basis for measuring whatever compensatory or actual damages are borne. 23
Fourth. We also agree with the petitioner that the respondent court should not have awarded respondents-spouses moral damages of P100,00.00 simply because their complaint did not specifically ask for such relief. Moral damages must be disallowed when it is not specifically prayed for in the complaint. 24 It is elementary that in order that moral damages may be awarded, there must be pleading and proof of moral suffering, mental anguish, fright and the like, 25 both of which are absent in this case.
Finally. We further agree with the petitioner that the award of attorney's fees of P100,000.00 should be eliminated for lack of factual basis and legal justification. The only evidence to support respondents-spouses' claim for attorney's fees is the testimony of Jerome Protasio to effect that his agreement with the law firm handling his case is that he is obligated to pay "25% of the obligation receivable . . ." 26 That is all. Both the trial court and respondent Court of Appeals likewise did not cite specific factual basis to justify the award of attorney's fees, which is in violation of the proscription against the imposition of a penalty on the right to litigate. 27 As we enunciated in Refractories Corporation of the Philippines vs. Intermediate Appellate Court: 28
. . . The award of attorney's fees is the exception rather than the general rule and counsel's fees is not to be awarded every time a party wins a suit. The discretion of the court to award attorney's fees under Article 2208 of the Civil Code "demand factual, legal and equitable justification, without which the award is a conclusion without a premise, its basis being improperly left to speculation and conjecture." In all events, the court must state the reason for the award of attorney's fees.
WHEREFORE, the decision of the respondent Court of Appeals dated September 12, 1996, in CA-G.R. CV No. 43311, is hereby MODIFIED in the sense that the awards of back rentals, moral damages and attorney's fees are hereby DELETED. In all other respects, the assailed decision is AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.
Regalado, Puno and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Melo, J., is on leave.
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