G. R. No. 137882 - February 04, 2005
SPS. ELIZABETH DE LA CRUZ and ALFREDO DE LA CRUZ, petitioners, vs. OLGA RAMISCAL represented by ENRIQUE MENDOZA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This petition for review assails (1) the Resolution 1 dated 11 September 1998 of the Court of Appeals which dismissed the appeal filed by petitioners from the Decision dated 31 July 1997 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 91, Quezon City, for Demolition of Illegally Constructed Structure, and (2) the Resolution 2 dated 05 March 1999 denying the subsequent motion for reconsideration.
The following facts, as recapitulated by the trial court, are undisputed.
Respondent Olga Ramiscal is the registered owner of a parcel of land located at the corner of 18th Avenue and Boni Serrano Avenue, Murphy, Quezon City, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 300302 of the Register of Deeds for Quezon City. 3 Petitioners SPS. ELIZABETH and ALFREDO DE LA CRUZ are occupants of a parcel of land, with an area of eighty-five (85) square meters, located at the back of Ramiscals property, and covered by TCT No. RT-56958 (100547) in the name of Concepcion de la Peña, mother of petitioner Alfredo de la Cruz. 4
The subject matter of this case is a 1.10-meter wide by 12.60-meter long strip of land owned by respondent which is being used by petitioners as their pathway to and from 18th Avenue, the nearest public highway from their property. Petitioners had enclosed the same with a gate, fence, and roof. 5
In 1976, respondent leased her property, including the building thereon, to Phil. Orient Motors. Phil. Orient Motors also owned a property adjacent to that of respondents. In 1995, Phil. Orient Motors sold its property to San Benito Realty. After the sale, Engr. Rafael Madrid prepared a relocation survey and location plan for both contiguous properties of respondent and San Benito Realty. It was only then that respondent discovered that the aforementioned pathway being occupied by petitioners is part of her property. 6
Through her lawyer, respondent immediately demanded that petitioners demolish the structure constructed by them on said pathway without her knowledge and consent. As her letter dated 18 February 1995 addressed to petitioners went unheeded, the former referred the matter to the Barangay for conciliation proceedings, but the parties arrived at no settlement. Hence, respondent filed this complaint with the RTC in Civil Case No. Q-95-25159, seeking the demolition of the structure allegedly illegally constructed by petitioners on her property. Respondent asserted in her complaint that petitioners have an existing right of way to a public highway other than the current one they are using, which she owns. She prayed for the payment of damages. 7
In support of the complaint, respondent presented TCT No. RT-56958 (100547) covering the property denominated as Lot 1-B in the name of Concepcion de la Peña, mother of petitioner herein Alfredo de la Cruz. The aforesaid TCT reveals that a portion of Lot 1-B, consisting of 85 square meters and denominated as Lot 1-B-2, is being occupied by petitioners. To prove that petitioners have an existing right of way to a public highway other than the pathway which respondent owns, the latter adduced in evidence a copy of the plan of a subdivision survey for Concepcion de la Peña and Felicidad Manalo prepared in 1965 and subdivision plan for Concepcion de la Peña prepared in 1990. These documents establish an existing 1.50-meter wide alley, identified as Lot 1-B-1, on the lot of Concepcion de la Peña, which serves as passageway from the lot being occupied by petitioners (Lot 1-B-2), to Boni Serrano Avenue. 8
On the other hand, petitioners, in their Answer, admitted having used a 1.10-meter wide by 12.60-meter long strip of land on the northern side of respondents property as their pathway to and from 18th Avenue, the nearest public highway from their property, but claimed that such use was with the knowledge of respondent. 9
Petitioners alleged in their Answer that in 1976, respondent initiated the construction on her property of a motor shop known as Phil. Orient Motors and they, as well as the other occupants of the property at the back of respondents land, opposed the construction of the perimeter wall as it would enclose and render their property without any adequate ingress and egress. They asked respondent to give them a 1.50-meter wide and 40.15-meter long easement on the eastern side of her property, which would be reciprocated with an equivalent 1.50-meter wide easement by the owner of another adjacent estate. Respondent did not want to give them the easement on the eastern side of her property, towards Boni Serrano Avenue but, instead, offered to them the said 1.10-meter wide passageway along the northern side of her property towards 18th Avenue, which offer they had accepted. 10
Petitioners additionally averred in their Answer that they were made to sign a document stating that they waived their right to ask for an easement along the eastern side of respondents property towards Boni Serrano Avenue, which document was among those submitted in the application for a building permit by a certain "Mang Puling," 11 the person in charge of the construction of the motor shop. That was why, according to petitioners, the perimeter wall on respondents property was constructed at a distance of 1.10-meters offset and away from respondents property line to provide a passageway for them to and from 18th Avenue. They maintained in their Answer that respondent knew all along of the 1.10-meter pathway and had, in fact, tolerated their use thereof.
On 31 July 1997, the RTC handed down a decision, 12 giving probative weight to the evidence adduced by respondent. The decretal portion enunciates:
Plaintiffs claim for moral damages must be denied as no evidence in support thereof was presented at all by her. Consequently, plaintiff is not entitled to exemplary damages. 13 However, for having been compelled to file this suit and incur expenses to protect her interest, plaintiff is entitled to an attorneys fees in the amount of P10,000.00.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff and ordering the defendants to demolish the structure built by them along the pathway on the eastern side of plaintiffs property towards 18th Avenue, Murphy, Quezon City and to pay [the] plaintiff the amount of P10,000.00 as and by way of attorneys fees.
Costs against the defendants. 14
The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal filed by petitioners from the RTC decision for failure to file brief within the reglementary period. The fallo of the Court of Appeals decision, provides:
WHEREFORE, for failure of the defendants-appellants to file brief within the reglementary period, the instant appeal is hereby DISMISSED pursuant to Section 1(e), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Compliance/Explanation filed by defendants-appellants, submitting the Letter-withdrawal of Atty. Judito Tadeo addressed to the said defendants-appellants is NOTED.
Let a copy of this Resolution be likewise served on defendants-appellants themselves. 15
The motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners met the same fate in the Resolution of the Court of Appeals dated 05 March 1999.
Petitioners now lay their cause before us through the present petition for review, raising the following issues:
A. WHETHER OR NOT THE DENIAL OF THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE PETITIONERS MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OF ITS RESOLUTION DATED SEPTEMBER 11, 1998 IS SANCTIONED BY THE RULINGS AND LEGAL PRONOUNCEMENTS OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT?
B. WHETHER OR NOT THE PETITIONERS ARE NONETHELESS ENTITLED TO A LEGAL EASEMENT OF RIGHT OF WAY, ASSUMING NO VOLUNTARY RIGHT OF WAY WAS GRANTED THEM BY THE RESPONDENT?
C. WHETHER OR NOT OPERATIVE EQUITABLE PRINCIPLE OF LACHES TO BAR THE RESPONDENT FROM DEPRIVING THE PETITIONERS CONTINUED USE OF THE SAID RIGHT OF WAY? 16
The issues rivet on the adjective as well as on the substantive law, specifically: (1) whether or not the Court Appeals erred in dismissing the appeal filed by petitioners for failure to file appellants brief on time, (2) whether or not petitioners are entitled to a voluntary or legal easement of right of way, and (3) whether or not respondent is barred by laches from closing the right of way being used by petitioners.
On the first issue, petitioners assert positively that the petition was filed on time on 30 April 1998, which is well within the 45-day period reckoned from 17 March 1998, when the secretary of their former counsel received the notice to file appeal.
Petitioners arguments fail to persuade us.
Press earnestly as they would, the evidence on record, nevertheless, evinces contrariety to petitioners assertion that they have beat the 45-day period to file appellants brief before the appellate court. It is clear from the registry return receipt card 17 that the Notice to File Brief was received on 12 March 1998 by one May Tadeo from the Office of Atty. Judito Angelo C. Tadeo, petitioners previous counsel. Thus, on 30 April 1998, when their new counsel entered his appearance and at the same time filed an appellants brief, the 45 days have run out. For failure of petitioners to file brief within the reglementary period, the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed said appeal pursuant to Section 1(b), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. 18
Neither can the members of this Court lend credence to petitioners contention that the written note of Atty. Tadeos office on the face of the Order reads that the said office received it on 17 March 1998. 19
It is a rule generally accepted that when the service is to be made by registered mail, the service is deemed complete and effective upon actual receipt by the addressee as shown by the registry return card. 20 Thus, between the registry return card and said written note, the former commands more weight. Not only is the former considered as the official record of the court, but also as such, it is presumed to be accurate unless proven otherwise, unlike a written note or record of a party, which is often self-serving and easily fabricated. Further, this error on the part of the secretary of the petitioners former counsel amounts to negligence or incompetence in record-keeping, which is not an excuse for the delay of filing.
Petitioners justification that their former counsel belatedly transmitted said order to them only on 20 March 1998 is not a good reason for departing from the established rule. It was the responsibility of petitioners and their counsel to devise a system for the receipt of mail intended for them. 21 Rules on procedure cannot be made to depend on the singular convenience of a party.
Petitioners next take the stand that even assuming the brief was filed late, the Court of Appeals still erred in dismissing their petition in light of the rulings of this Court allowing delayed appeals on equitable grounds. 22 Indeed, in certain special cases and for compelling causes, the Court has disregarded similar technical flaws so as to correct an obvious injustice made. 23 In this case, petitioners, however, failed to demonstrate any justifiable reasons or meritorious grounds for a liberal application of the rules. We must remind petitioners that the right to appeal is not a constitutional, natural or inherent right - it is a statutory privilege and of statutory origin and, therefore, available only if granted or provided by statute. 24 Thus, it may be exercised only in the manner prescribed by, and in accordance with, the provisions of the law. 25
Anent the second issue, an easement or servitude is a real right, constituted on the corporeal immovable property of another, by virtue of which the owner has to refrain from doing, or must allow someone to do, something on his property, for the benefit of another thing or person. 26 The statutory basis for this right is Article 613, in connection with Article 619, of the Civil Code, which states:
Art. 613. An easement or servitude is an encumbrance imposed upon an immovable for the benefit of another immovable belonging to a different owner.
The immovable in favor of which the easement is established is called the dominant estate; that which is subject thereto, the servient estate.
Art. 619. Easements are established either by law or by the will of the owners. The former are called legal and the latter voluntary easements.
Did respondent voluntarily accord petitioners a right of way?
We rule in the negative. Petitioners herein failed to show by competent evidence other than their bare claim that they and their tenants, spouses Manuel and Cecilia Bondoc and Carmelino Masangkay, entered into an agreement with respondent, through her foreman, Mang Puling, to use the pathway to 18th Avenue, which would be reciprocated with an equivalent 1.50-meter wide easement by the owner of another adjacent estate. The hands of this Court are tied from giving credence to petitioners self-serving claim that such right of way was voluntarily given them by respondent for the following reasons:
First, petitioners were unable to produce any shred of document evidencing such agreement. The Civil Code is clear that any transaction involving the sale or disposition of real property must be in writing. 27 Thus, the dearth of corroborative evidence opens doubts on the veracity of the naked assertion of petitioners that indeed the subject easement of right of way was a voluntary grant from respondent. Second, as admitted by the petitioners, it was only the foreman, Mang Puling, who talked with them regarding said pathway on the northern side of respondents property. Thus, petitioner Elizabeth de la Cruz testified that she did not talk to respondent regarding the arrangement proposed to them by Mang Puling despite the fact that she often saw respondent. 28 It is, therefore, foolhardy for petitioners to believe that the alleged foreman of respondent had the authority to bind the respondent relating to the easement of right of way. Third, their explanation that said Mang Puling submitted said agreement to the Quezon City Engineers Office, in connection with the application for a building permit but said office could no longer produce a copy thereof, does not inspire belief. As correctly pointed out by the trial court, 29 petitioners should have requested a subpoena duces tecum from said court to compel the Quezon City Engineers Office to produce said document or to prove that such document is indeed not available.
The fact that the perimeter wall of the building on respondents property was constructed at a distance of 1.10 meters away from the property line, does not by itself bolster the veracity of petitioners story that there was indeed such an agreement. Further, as noted by the trial court, it was Atty. Federico R. Onandia, counsel of Phil. Orient Motors, who wrote petitioners on 25 August 1994 advising them that his client would close the pathway along 18th Avenue, thereby implying that it was Phil. Orient Motors, respondents lessee, which tolerated petitioners use of said pathway. 30
Likewise futile are petitioners attempts to show that they are legally entitled to the aforesaid pathway under Article 649 of the Civil Code, to wit:
Art. 649. The owner, or any person who by virtue of a real right may cultivate or use any immovable, which is surrounded by other immovables pertaining to other persons, and without adequate outlet to a public highway, is entitled to demand a right of way through the neighboring estates, after payment of the proper indemnity.
The conferment of a legal easement of right of way under Article 649 is subject to proof of the following requisites: (1) it is surrounded by other immovables and has no adequate outlet to a public highway; (2) payment of proper indemnity; (3) the isolation is not the result of its own acts; (4) the right of way claimed is at the point least prejudicial to the servient estate; and (5) to the extent consistent with the foregoing rule, where the distance from the dominant estate to a public highway may be the shortest. 31 The first three requisites are not obtaining in the instant case.
Contrary to petitioners contention, the trial court found from the records that Concepcion de la Peña had provided petitioners with an adequate ingress and egress towards Boni Serrano Avenue. The trial court, gave weight to TCT No. RT-56958 (100547) covering the property denominated as Lot 1-B in the name of Concepcion de la Peña, mother of petitioner herein Alfredo de la Cruz. Said TCT indicates that a portion of Lot 1-B, consisting of 85 square meters and denominated as Lot 1-B-2, is the one being occupied by petitioners. 32 In this connection, a copy of the plan of a subdivision survey for Concepcion de la Peña and Felicidad Manalo prepared in 1965 and subdivision plan for Concepcion de la Peña prepared in 1990 revealed an existing 1.50-meter wide alley, identified as Lot 1-B-1, on the lot of Concepcion de la Peña, which serves as passageway from the lot being occupied by petitioners (Lot 1-B-2) to Boni Serrano Avenue. 33 During the trial, petitioner Elizabeth de la Cruz herself admitted knowledge of the existence of the subdivision plan of Lot 1-B prepared for Concepcion de la Peña by Engr. Julio Cudiamat in 1990. The Subdivision Plan subdivided Lot 1-B into three portions, namely:
(1) Lot 1-B-1, which is an existing alley, consisting of 59.60 square meters, towards Boni Serrano Avenue;
(2) Lot 1-B-2, consisting of 85.20 square meters, which is being occupied by petitioners; and
(3) Lot 1-B-3, consisting also of 85.20 square meters, which is being occupied by the sister of petitioner Alfredo dela Cruz. 34
From petitioner Elizabeth de la Cruzs own admission, Lot 1-B-1 was intended by the owner, Concepcion de la Peña, to serve as an access to a public highway for the occupants of the interior portion of her property. 35 Inasmuch as petitioners have an adequate outlet to a public highway (Boni Serrano Avenue), they have no right to insist on using a portion of respondents property as pathway towards 18th Avenue and for which no indemnity was being paid by them.
Petitioner Elizabeth de la Cruz claimed before the trial court that although there was indeed a portion of land allotted by Concepcion de la Peña to serve as their ingress and egress to Boni Serrano Avenue, petitioners can no longer use the same because de la Peña had constructed houses on it. As found by the trial court, the isolation of petitioners property was due to the acts of Concepcion de la Peña, who is required by law to grant a right of way to the occupants of her property. In the trial courts rationale:
Article 649 of the Civil Code provides that the easement of right of way is not compulsory if the isolation of the immovable is due to the proprietors own acts. To allow defendants access to plaintiffs property towards 18th Avenue simply because it is a shorter route to a public highway, despite the fact that a road right of way, which is even wider, although longer, was in fact provided for them by Concepcion de la Peña towards Boni Serrano Avenue would ignore what jurisprudence has consistently maintained through the years regarding an easement of right of way, that "mere convenience for the dominant estate is not enough to serve as its basis. To justify the imposition of this servitude, there must be a real, not a fictitious or artificial necessity for it." In Francisco vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 177 SCRA 527, it was likewise held that a person who had been granted an access to the public highway through an adjacent estate cannot claim a similar easement in an alternative location if such existing easement was rendered unusable by the owners own act of isolating his property from a public highway, such as what Concepcion de la Peña allegedly did to her property by constructing houses on the 1.50 meter wide alley leading to Boni Serrano Avenue. And, if it were true that defendants had already bought Lot 1-B-2, the portion occupied by them, from Concepcion de la Peña, then the latter is obliged to grant defendants a right of way without indemnity. 36
We hasten to add that under the above-quoted Article 649 of the Civil Code, it is the owner, or any person who by virtue of a real right may cultivate or use any immovable surrounded by other immovable pertaining to other persons, who is entitled to demand a right of way through the neighboring estates. In this case, petitioners fell short of proving that they are the owners of the supposed dominant estate. Nor were they able to prove that they possess a real right to use such property. The petitioners claim to have acquired their property, denominated as Lot 1-B-2, from Concepcion de la Peña, mother of defendant Alfredo de la Cruz, who owns Lot 1-B-3, an adjacent lot. However, as earlier noted, the trial court found that the title to both lots is still registered in the name of Concepcion de la Peña under TCT No. RT-56958 (100547). 37 Neither were petitioners able to produce the Deed of Sale evidencing their alleged purchase of the property from de la Peña. Hence, by the bulk of evidence, de la Peña, not petitioners, is the real party-in-interest to claim a right of way although, as explained earlier, any action to demand a right of way from de la Peñas part will not lie inasmuch as by her own acts of building houses in the area allotted for a pathway in her property, she had caused the isolation of her property from any access to a public highway.
On the third issue, petitioners cannot find sanctuary in the equitable principle of laches under the contention that by sleeping on her right to reclaim the pathway after almost twenty years, respondent has, in effect, waived such right over the same. It is not just the lapse of time or delay that constitutes laches. The essence of laches is the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, through due diligence, could or should have been done earlier, thus giving rise to a presumption that the party entitled to assert it had either abandoned or declined to assert it. 38
The essential elements of laches are: (a) conduct on the part of the defendant, or of one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation complained of; (b) delay in asserting complainants rights after he had knowledge of defendants acts and after he has had the opportunity to sue; (c) lack of knowledge or notice by defendant that the complainant will assert the right on which he bases his suit; and (d) injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event the relief is accorded to the complainant. 39
The second and third elements, i.e., knowledge of defendant's acts and delay in the filing of such suit are certainly lacking here. As borne by the records, it was only in 1995 that respondent found out that the pathway being used by petitioners was part of her property when a relocation survey and location plan of her property and the adjacent land bought by San Benito Realty were prepared. 40 She immediately demanded petitioners to demolish the structure illegally constructed by them on her property without her knowledge and consent. As her letter dated 18 February 1995 addressed to petitioners fell on deaf ears, and as no settlement was arrived at by the parties at the Barangay level, respondent seasonably filed her complaint with the RTC in the same year. 41
Respondent, in her Comment, 42 brings the Courts attention to petitioners conversion of the pathway, subject matter of this case, into a canteen and videoke bar, as shown by the pictures 43 showing the property bearing the signage, "FREDS 44 CANTEEN/VIDEOKE KAMBINGAN." Respondent, likewise, complains in her Comment about the structures installed by petitioners that encroached on respondents property line as a result of the commercial activities by petitioners on the disputed property. Petitioners have implicitly admitted this conversion of the propertys use by their silence on the matter in their Reply 45 and Memorandum. 46 Such conversion is a telltale sign of petitioners veiled pecuniary interest in asserting a right over the litigated property under the pretext of an innocuous claim for a right of way.
Viewed from all angles, from the facts and the law, the Court finds no redeeming value in petitioners asseverations that merit the reversal of the assailed resolutions.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED. The Resolutions dated 11 September 1998 and 5 March 1999 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 68216 are AFFIRMED. The Decision dated 31 July 1997 of the Regional Trial Court is likewise UPHELD. Costs against petitioners.
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.
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