[G.R. NO. 142408. September 30, 2005]
SPOUSES RICARDO ALMENDRALA and ROSARIO DOROJA, Petitioners, v. SPOUSES WING ON NGO and LILY T. NGO, and the HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated September 30, 1999 in CA-G.R. CV No. 56458, which reversed and set aside the Decision dated April 30, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna (RTC) upholding petitioners' right of legal redemption; and the CA Resolution dated March 9, 2000, which denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration.
The factual background of the case is as follows:
On February 4, 1992, petitioner spouses Ricardo Almendrala and Rosario Doroja (Almendrala spouses for brevity) filed a complaint for legal redemption and damages against respondent spouses Wing On Ngo and Lily T. Ngo (Ngo spouses for brevity) before the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, docketed as Civil Case No. B-3714 and assigned to Branch 24 thereof.2
They alleged that: they are the registered owners of a lot situated along Mabini St., San Pedro, Laguna, known as Lot 5-B of the Subdivision Plan Csd-04-003353 with an area of 304 square meters under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-169139; the spouses Josefina and Lysias Manalo3 (Manalo spouses for brevity), Ricardo's sister and brother-in-law, respectively, used to be the registered owners of Lot 5-D also of Subdivision Plan Csd-04-003353, with an area of 22 square meters, covered by TCT No. T-150411, adjoining their lot; they discovered that the Manalo spouses sold the lot to the Ngo spouses for the sum of
On March 20, 1992, the Almendrala spouses filed a motion to declare the Ngo spouses in default for the failure to file their Answer.4
On March 26, 1992, the Ngo spouses filed the opposition to the motion for default with motion to admit their answer.5 In their Answer dated March 25, 1992, the Ngo spouses claimed that they merely relied in good faith on Josefina Manalo's assurance that none of her relatives wanted to buy the property and that they have no intention to oppose the desire of the Almendrala spouses to redeem the same. They prayed that the case be dismissed for being premature and for lack of merit.6
In its Order dated March 27, 1992, the RTC denied the motion for default and admitted the answer of the Ngo spouses in the interest of substantial justice.7
At the scheduled pre-trial conference on April 27, 1992, only the Almendrala spouses and their counsel appeared. Thus, upon motion of the Almendrala spouses, the RTC declared the Ngo spouses as in default for their failure to attend the scheduled pre-trial conference. It also authorized the Almendrala spouses to present their evidence ex-parte.8
On May 29, 1992, the Ngo spouses filed a motion for reconsideration.9 On June 4, 1992, the RTC granted the motion for reconsideration and gave the Ngo spouses the right to cross-examine the witnesses of the Almendrala spouses considering that the latter had already presented their evidence.10
However, for failure of the Ngo spouses to cross-examine the witnesses of the Almendrala spouses on four scheduled hearing dates called for such purpose, the RTC declared, in its Order dated October 7, 1992, that they waived such right.11
On November 18, 1992, the Ngo spouses filed a motion for reconsideration of the Order dated October 7, 1992.12 On the same date, the Ngo spouses filed a motion for leave to file an amended answer.13 In their amended answer, the Ngo spouses alleged that the Almendrala spouses have neither the right nor privilege to redeem the land in litigation; they intend to use the land for their business needs; the complaint was filed purely for harassment purposes and stated no cause of action.14 They also filed a motion for leave to file third-party complaint against the Manalo spouses for supposed breach of the latter's guarantee as vendors to keep the vendees in peaceful possession of the property sold.15
On December 2, 1992, the Almendrala spouses filed their opposition to the motion for reconsideration, motion to amend answer and motion to file third-party complaint.16 However, on January 29, 1993, the RTC granted the three motions of the Ngo spouses.17
On May 7, 1993, the Almendrala spouses filed a motion to declare third-party defendant Manalo spouses in default for failure to file their third - party answer.18 On May 13, 1993, the RTC granted the motion.19
A day before, however, or on May 12, 1993, the Manalo spouses filed their answer, claiming therein that verbal notice of the questioned sale was given to the Almendrala spouses and that their inclusion in the instant suit was tainted with malice.20 Thus, on May 31, 1993, the Manalo spouses filed a motion for reconsideration of the May 13, 1993 default order.21
On June 10, 1993, the RTC granted the motion for reconsideration and admitted the answer of third-party defendants Manalo spouses.22
On July 5, 1993, the Manalo spouses filed a motion to admit their amended answer to the third-party complaint.23 In their amended answer to the third-party complaint, they allege that: the
On September 12, 1994, the Ngo spouses and the Manalo spouses executed a compromise agreement with the following provisions:
1. The THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS hereby acknowledge the THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFFS' ownership over that parcel of land situated in Poblacion, San Pedro, Laguna and now registered in the latter's names under Transfer Certificate of Title No. 23472 of the Registry of Deeds of the Province of Laguna.
2. The THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS hereby undertake to vacate the aforesaid premises, and voluntarily surrender possession thereof to the THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFFS, on or before November 12, 1994.
3. The THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFFS and THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS hereby waive and quitclaim their respective claims against each other of whatever nature except the enforcement of this Agreement by means of a writ of execution in the event that they fail to comply with what is incumbent of them to do.25
On December 26, 1994, the RTC approved the foregoing compromise agreement.26
On April 30, 1997, the RTC rendered its decision upholding the right of legal redemption of the Almendrala spouses based on: (a) the testimony of Ricardo Almendrala, as corroborated by Ariel Uypico, that the Ngo spouses were selling the lot; (b) the non-approval by the proper building official or municipal engineer of the building design and plan for the lot prepared by Jaime Patalud for the Ngo spouses; (c) the failure of the building design and plan to comply with the legal requirement imposed by the National Building Code and its Implementing Rules and Regulations that a commercial building with an area of 20 to 24 square meters must allow a road right of way of 6 meters in front, 3 meters at the side and 3 meters at the rear. It held that the lot is so small that it cannot be used for any practical purpose within a reasonable time and was bought by the Ngo spouses for speculation.27
Dissatisfied, the Ngo spouses filed an appeal with the CA which, on September 30, 1999, set aside the decision of the RTC and dismissed the complaint for legal redemption and damages.28
The CA held that the Almendrala spouses failed to allege and prove that the disputed area of 22 square meters cannot be used for any practical purpose or was bought by the Ngo spouses merely for speculation; and that on the contrary, the Ngo spouses showed that they planned to use the lot for a two-storey bakery, store and restaurant and had not bought the lot for speculation.
Hence, the present Petition for Review on Certiorari based on the following grounds:
The Court of Appeals committed grave error and abuse of discretion tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it replaced the trial court's factual findings with its own second hand appreciation.31
The Court of Appeals gravely erred and committed grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it favored the patently false and perjured testimonies of the respondent and his witness.32
Anent the first ground, the Almendrala spouses admit that they did not allege in the complaint that the Ngo spouses bought the lot for speculation. They insist, however, that they offered evidence, without objection from the Ngo spouses, proving that the latter acquired the lot for speculation.
As to the second ground, they argue that the CA gave credence to the testimonies of Wing On Ngo and Jaime Patalud despite the patent perjuries they committed. They maintain that Wing On Ngo lied in four instances, to wit: when he swore that he inspected the lot before he purchased it; when he informed the Almendrala spouses that he was buying the lot; that he revealed to them his alleged project of a two-storey bakery and store; and that they agreed to remove the eave overhanging the lot.
The Ngo spouses, on the other hand, submit that the arguments in the present petition are a mere rehash of those submitted in the motion for reconsideration before the CA and already resolved by the said court.
As to the first ground, the Ngo spouses contend that: speculation was neither alleged nor proven; the Almendrala spouses were duly notified of the sale but they failed to exercise the right of pre-emption or redemption within the 30-day period required by Article 162333 of the Civil Code; there is no rightful redemption as there was no valid tender of payment or even consignation in court of redemption price but simply an offer to redeem.
On the second ground, they maintain that the alleged perjured testimonies of Wing On Ngo and Jaime Patalud are normal reactions of someone on the witness stand. They submit that the Almendrala spouses lack a full grasp of the applicability of the maxim "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" because it deals only with the weight of evidence and is not a positive rule of law of universal application. They further assert that their good faith and honest intention in acquiring the land was evident as early as July 31, 1991 when the National Housing Authority issued a certification approving the request of the original owner, Josefina Manalo, to transfer her rights over the lot in favor of Wing On Ngo.
At any rate, they raise, as additional error for the Court's consideration, the CA's refusal to grant their claim for payment of damages and attorney's fees.
The petition lacks merit.
It is a settled rule that in the exercise of the Supreme Court's power of review, the Court is not a trier of facts and does not normally undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties during the trial of the case considering that the findings of facts of the CA are conclusive and binding on the Court. While jurisprudence has recognized several exceptions in which factual issues may be resolved by this Court, such as: (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 facts 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 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 petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent; (10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; or (11) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion,34 none of these exceptions find application here.
The Almendrala spouses maintain that they anchored their cause of action on Article 1622 of the Civil Code, which provides that:
Whenever a piece of urban land which is so small and so situated that a major portion thereof cannot be used for any practical purpose within a reasonable time, having been bought merely for speculation, is about to be re-sold, the owner of the adjoining land shall have the right of pre-emption at a reasonable price.
If the re-sale has been perfected, the owner of the adjoining land shall have a right of redemption, also at a reasonable price.
When two or more owners of adjoining lands wish to exercise the right of pre-emption or redemption, the owner whose intended use of the land in question appears best justified shall be preferred.
There are 4 elements necessary for the application of Article 1622, to wit: (1) that the piece of land is urban land; (2) that the land is so small that a major portion thereof cannot be used for any practical purpose within a reasonable time; (3) that it was bought merely for speculation; and (4) that the land is about to be resold, or that its resale has been perfected. Before a party may avail of the right of pre-emption or redemption under this provision, it is necessary that all these elements be alleged in the complaint and proved at the trial.35
A thorough reading of the complaint in this case reveals that the Almendrala spouses failed to allege in their complaint that they based their cause of action under Article 1622 because they did not allege the elements necessary for the application of said provision. They insist, nonetheless, that they adduced sufficient evidence to support their claim.
Admittedly, the failure of the Almendrala spouses to plead in the complaint that the Ngo spouses bought the lot for speculation does not forestall relief under Article 1622 if they offered sufficient evidence to support their claim thereon. As provided for in Section 5,36 Rule 10 of the Rules of Court, when issues not raised by the pleadings are tried by express or implied consent of the parties, they shall be treated in all respects, as if they had been raised in the pleadings. Thus, even if the complaint be defective, but the parties go to trial thereon, and the plaintiff, without objection, introduces sufficient evidence to constitute the particular cause of action which it intended to allege in the original complaint, and the defendant voluntarily produces witnesses to meet the cause of action thus established, an issue is joined as fully and as effectively as if it had been previously joined by the most perfect pleadings.37
In the present case, the Court finds, however, that the Almendrala spouses failed to prove the existence of all of the elements for the application of Article 1622.
It is undisputed that the subject property is urban land and that it is small at 22 square meters. However, the Almendrala spouses failed to convincingly show that a major portion of the subject property cannot be used for any practical purpose, that the lot was bought merely for speculation and that it is about to be resold or the sale has already been perfected.
The testimonies of Ricardo Almendrala and Ariel Uypico on the intention of the Ngo spouses to sell the subject property are far from convincing. Ricardo Almendrala testified that the subject property was offered to his friend, Dr. Nabua38 but he failed to present the latter in court to confirm and corroborate his testimony thereon. As for Ariel Uypico, his statement on the intention of the Ngo spouses to sell the subject property is vague and contains no specificities of individuals allegedly interested in buying it. Thus, there is no clear proof that the subject property is about to be resold.
Moreover, it does not necessarily follow that the subject property cannot be used for any practical purpose simply because the building design and plan did not allegedly meet the requirements of the National Building Code on commercial buildings. In that case, all that needs to be done is to prepare a building design and plan with due consideration of the space requirements or limitations imposed by law.
In any event, the Ngo spouses have shown that 15.81 square meters of the subject property can be used for the construction of the proposed building for their business needs.39 They have shown that they did not buy the subject property for speculation. They engaged the services of an architect to draw a building design and plan thereon. The fact that the building design and plan were not yet approved by the proper building official or the municipal engineer should not be taken against them because they adequately explained that this was due to the pending litigation involving the subject property.40 Naturally, it would be a waste of their time, effort and money to submit the building design and plan to the proper building official or the municipal engineer for approval and implement the construction of the proposed building should a decision later on be rendered against them.
And as regards the alleged perjured testimonies of Wing On Ngo and Jaime Patalud, it is perfectly within the discretion of the CA to accept portions of the testimony of a witness as it may deem credible and reject those which it believes to be false. The maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is not a strict legal maxim in our jurisprudence. It is neither a categorical test of credibility nor a positive rule of universal application.41 It has its own limitations, for when the mistaken statement is consistent with good faith and is not conclusively indicative of a deliberate perversion, the believable portion of the testimony should be admitted. Although a person may err in memory or in observation in one or more respects, he may have told the truth as to other respects. Stated elsewise, the rule deals only with the weight of evidence and should not be applied to portions of the testimony corroborated by other evidence, particularly where the false portions could be innocent mistakes.42 There is no concrete evidence that Wing On Ngo or Jaime Patalud intended to pervert the truth or prevaricated when they testified on the intention of the Ngo spouses to make use of the subject property.
Needless to stress, the burden of proof in civil cases is on the plaintiff to establish his case by a preponderance of evidence. If he claims a right granted or created by law, he must prove his claim by competent evidence. He must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of that of his opponent.43 In this case, Almendrala spouses failed to show sufficient proof of their entitlement to the right of pre-emption or redemption under Article 1622 of the Civil Code and, therefore, have no enforceable legal right to speak of.
Having thus ruled that the Almendrala spouses have no right of pre-emption or redemption under Article 1622 of the Civil Code, there is no need to delve on the applicability of Article 1623 of the same Code since such provision involves the 30-day period, counted from written notice, to exercise the right of pre-emption or redemption.
As to the contention of the Ngo spouses that the CA erred in refusing to grant their claim for damages and attorney's fees, suffice it to say that the Court has held in a litany of cases44 that parties who have not appealed cannot obtain from the appellate court any affirmative reliefs other than those granted, if any, in the decision of the lower tribunal. The appellees can advance only such arguments as may be necessary to defeat the appellants' claims or to uphold the appealed decision. They cannot ask for a modification of the judgment in their favor in order to obtain other positive reliefs.
Thus, the findings of fact of the CA may be deemed as accepted by the Ngo spouses, considering that they did not file any motion for reconsideration of the questioned decision, much less appeal therefrom. The matter of the entitlement of the Ngo spouses to damages is not in question because they did not appeal from the decision of the CA.
In view of the foregoing, the Court is convinced that the CA committed no reversible error in its challenged Decision and Resolution.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed Decision dated September 30, 1999 and Resolution dated March 9, 2000 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 56458 are AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioners.
Puno, J., (Chairman), Callejo, Sr., Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., Concur.
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