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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 153476 : September 27, 2006]

HKO AH PAO, HENRY TENG and ANNA TENG, Petitioners, v. LAURENCE TING, ANTHONY TING and EDMUND TING, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AZCUNA, J.:

This is a Petition for Review 1 of the decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA), dated January 31, 2002 and May 7, 2002, respectively, in CA-G.R. CV No. 47804, entitled "Hko Ah Pao, et al., v. Laurence Chua Ting, et al."

The controversy involves two feuding families of the same clan battling over a piece of property registered in the name of respondents. Petitioners claim that the property was bought by their patriarch, the late Teng Ching Lay, who allegedly entrusted the same to his son from a previous marriage, Arsenio Ting, the deceased father of herein respondents.

The antecedents2 are as follows:

On June 12, 1961, the spouses Aristeo Mayo and Salud Masangkay sold for P70,000 the property subject of this case which is located at 1723 Vasquez St., Malate, Manila to Arsenio Ting. Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 63991 was subsequently issued in the name of Arsenio Ting on June 14, 1961.

Arsenio Ting was the son of Teng Ching Lay by his first marriage. At the time of the sale, Arsenio was a practicing lawyer and, being a Filipino, was qualified to acquire and own real property in the Philippines. Arsenio was likewise the manager and controlling stockholder of Triumph Timber, Inc. in Butuan City. Teng Ching Lay, on the other hand, was a Chinese citizen, and although his name did not appear in the corporate records of Triumph Timber, Inc., he was the one making business decisions for the company.3 He became a naturalized Filipino citizen on January 18, 1966.

A colonial-style house was standing on the disputed lot when it was bought. Teng Ching Lay occupied the same, together with his second wife, petitioner Hko Ah Pao, and their children, petitioners Henry and Anna Teng. Arsenio also stayed in the same house.

Several years later, Arsenio married Germana Chua. They moved to a new house that was erected on the same lot behind the old colonial house. Germana bore three sons, respondents herein, namely, Laurence, Anthony and Edmund, all surnamed Ting.

Later, Arsenio and his family relocated to Butuan City but they would stay in their old house in Malate whenever they came to Manila. A caretaker was hired to oversee it. Teng Ching Lay also transferred to Butuan City. Petitioners remained in the colonial house, and Teng Ching Lay would join them each time he went to Manila.

Arsenio died in 1972, predeceasing his father, Teng Ching Lay, and leaving as compulsory heirs, the surviving spouse, Germana, and respondents who were all minors at that time.

In the intestate proceedings for the settlement of Arsenio's estate before the Court of First Instance (CFI) of Agusan del Norte and Butuan City, the court issued an Order on October 23, 1975 approving the project of partition which included, among others, the property in question which was adjudicated in favor of respondents.

On February 4, 1976, Germana filed a petition for guardianship with the City Court of Butuan over the persons and properties of her minor children. The court appointed her as guardian on November 21, 1978.

In view of the Order of the CFI adjudicating the disputed property in favor of respondents, TCT No. 63991 was cancelled and in lieu thereof, TCT No. 134412 was issued in the name of respondents on July 3, 1979.

Two years later, trouble brewed between Teng Ching Lay and his daughter-in-law, Germana, concerning the properties in Manila and Butuan City, as well as the stocks of Triumph Timber, Inc. which involved millions of pesos. On April 28, 1981, Teng Ching Lay filed before the City Court of Butuan a motion to recall Germana's guardianship over her minor children for her failure to give him, as the paternal grandfather of the minors, notice of the guardianship proceedings pursuant to Articles 344 and 355 of the Civil Code.4 He added that Germana sought the guardianship merely to seek authority to sell the properties of the wards. On her part, Germana averred that Teng Ching Lay had raised this issue only as a leverage against her in their case before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pertaining to the liquidation of the assets of Timber Triumph, Inc.

On July 21, 1987, the court rendered a decision revoking the letters of guardianship of Germana, from which she appealed. On January 30, 1989, Teng Ching Lay died. His surviving heirs, however, decided not to contest any further the letters of guardianship previously granted to Germana. Hence, on November 3, 1989, the case was ordered terminated.5

An estate tax return signed by petitioner Anna Teng was filed for the estate of Teng Ching Lay whose given address when he was alive was in Buhangin, Butuan City. The residence of petitioners who were listed as heirs was stated to be on A. Vasquez Street, Ermita, Manila, which is the property in question. Appearing on the dorsal side of the estate tax return was a list of properties belonging to Teng Ching Lay. The only properties that were listed, however, were those located in Cavite and Butuan City.

On May 27, 1991, respondents, through counsel, sent a demand letter to petitioners to vacate the property in question. When the latter refused, respondents instituted an ejectment case against them in the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila.

Petitioners, in turn, on January 21, 1992, filed a complaint for the cancellation of title and partition with damages and prayer for a restraining order and/or preliminary injunction against respondents before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila. Petitioners, who have been residing in the property since 1961, demanded the reconveyance of its title in their favor on the ground that Arsenio merely held the property in trust for Teng Ching Lay.

According to petitioners, Teng Ching Lay purchased the property from the spouses Aristeo Mayo and Salud Masangkay but it was made to appear in the contract of sale that Arsenio was the vendee because of the constitutional prohibition against aliens owning land in the Philippines. They claim that they became aware of the TCT in the name of respondents only when the latter instituted an ejectment suit against them, and notwithstanding the efforts on their part to settle the dispute, respondents refused to recognize their ownership of the property.

Petitioners' principal witness was Angel Sembrano, corporate accountant of Triumph Timber, Inc., and Teng Ching Lay's personal accountant. According to Sembrano, he met Arsenio when he was hired as an accountant of Triumph Timber, Inc. in 1959. As Teng Ching Lay's personal accountant from 1960 to 1989, he prepared the latter's income tax returns and purchases. In June of 1961, Arsenio allegedly told him that his father was going to buy a house in Manila, and directed him to prepare a voucher and a check of the corporation for P200,000 payable to Teng Ching Lay. Said voucher and check, however, along with the other records of the corporation, were allegedly lost during the flood that hit Butuan City in 1981.

Sembrano likewise stated that when he went to Manila in November of 1961, Teng Ching Lay brought him to the house that he purportedly bought but since he was a Chinese national at that time, the title to the property was placed in the name of Arsenio.6

On cross-examination, Sembrano mentioned that he did not know who the vendor of the property was but the purchase price, as he was supposedly told by Arsenio, was P150,000; that not all the documents of the corporation were presented in the proceedings at the SEC; that he did not know where the proceeds of the check went; and, that Teng Ching Lay filed income tax returns for 1961 and 1962. He insisted that Arsenio informed him that the check was intended for the purchase price of the house and lot in Manila, and that he even saw the unsigned deed of conveyance.7

Respondents, on the other hand, contended that the property was paid for and legally acquired by their father, Arsenio, and that it was among those adjudicated to them by virtue of a special proceedings before the CFI of Agusan del Norte and Butuan City. They asked for the dismissal of the complaint, and filed a counterclaim that prayed for damages as well as compensation for the use of a portion of the property by petitioners.

Meanwhile, on February 24, 1993, the MeTC rendered a decision in the ejectment case ordering petitioners to vacate the premises. Petitioners appealed to the RTC of Manila but the RTC affirmed the decision of the MeTC, stating that petitioners failed to take earnest efforts to reach a compromise agreement with respondents prior to the filing of the ejectment case.

On September 30, 1994, the RTC, in the aforestated civil case, rendered its decision dismissing the complaint filed by petitioners on the ground that petitioners failed to prove that Arsenio was merely holding the subject property in trust for his father, Teng Ching Lay, thus:

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered dismissing the complaint, with costs against plaintiffs.

SO ORDERED.8

On appeal, the CA affirmed the decision of the RTC on January 31, 2002, thus:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed Decision of the lower court in Civil Case No. 92-60333 is hereby AFFIRMED in toto by this Court.

SO ORDERED.9

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied by the CA.

Hence, this petition raising the following issues:

I

WHETHER THE RULE ON LACHES MAY BE APPLIED TO THIS CASE.

II

WHETHER SECTION 42 (2nd SENTENCE), RULE 130 OF THE REVISED RULES OF EVIDENCE AND THE HOLDINGS IN SEVERAL CASES MAY BE APPLICABLE TO THE TESTIMONY OF ANGEL SEMBRANO RELATIVE TO THE DECLARATION, AS WELL AS ACTION, OF THE LATE TENG CHING LAY THAT THE LATTER OWNED THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION.

III

WHETHER SECTION 38, RULE 130, OF THE REVISED RULES OF EVIDENCE MAY BE APPLICABLE TO THE TESTIMONY OF ANGEL SEMBRANO AFFECTING THE DECLARATION TO HIM OF ARSENIO TING, I.E. "BIBILI SI TATAY NG BAHAY SA MAYNILA" AS AN EXCEPTION TO THE HEARSAY RULE.

IV

WHETHER THE HOLDING IN PEOPLE V. ULPINDO, 256 SCRA 201 AND PEOPLE V. LIAN, 255 SCRA 532 MAY BE APPLIED TO ANGEL SEMBRANO'S TESTIMONY AS CONTAINED IN THE TSN.

V

WHETHER SECTION 34, RULE 130, OF THE REVISED RULES OF EVIDENCE MAY BE APPLICABLE TO RESPONDENT ANTHONY TING'S ADMISSION AS EXTANT IN THE RECORD TO SHOW SPECIFIC INTENT, HABIT AND THE LIKE ON THE PART OF TENG CHING LAY IN HAVING HIS SON, ARSENIO TING, ACT AS HIS TRUSTEE OF SEVERAL PROPERTIES.

VI

WHETHER SECTION 26, RULE 130 OF THE REVISED RULES OF EVIDENCE (ON ADMISSION AGAINST INTEREST) AND SECTION 4, RULE 129 (ON JUDICIAL ADMISSION) OF THE SAME RULES MAY BE APPLIED TO RESPONDENT ANTHONY TING'S ADMISSION AS EXTANT IN THE RECORD, I.E., THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION WAS OWNED BY TENG CHING LAY.

VII

WHETHER, AS APPLIED TO THE UNDISPUTED FACTS OF THE CASE, THE RULE ON BURDEN OF EVIDENCE, I.E., TO SHOW THAT ARSENIO TING PAID THE PRICE OF THE SUBJECT PROPERTY, BEING CAPABLE OF DOING SO, WAS SHIFTED TO RESPONDENTS AFTER PETITIONERS HAD SUCCESSFULLY PROVEN, BY TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE, THAT THE PURCHASE PRICE OF THE PROPERTY WAS PAID BY TENG CHING LAY AND MERELY ENTRUSTED THE SAME TO HIS SON, ARSENIO TING, AS THE FORMER WAS THEN A CHINESE CITIZEN WHO WAS NOT ALLOWED TO OWN REAL ESTATE PROPERTY (1935 CONSTITUTION) LET ALONE THE FACT THAT THE FORMER, BY PREVIOUS CONDUCT, HAD ALREADY ENTRUSTED TO HIS SON SEVERAL PROPERTIES UNDER THE SAME REASON.

The Court notes that while the petition had been filed under Rule 45, the issues and the contentions advanced herein have been presented in a manner that a resolution of such will require this Court to re-examine the findings of fact of both the RTC and the CA.

The basic rule is that factual questions are beyond the province of this Court in a Petition for Review 10 because only questions purely of law may be raised in such a petition. One test to determine if there exists a question of fact or law in a given case is whether the Court can resolve the issue that was raised without having to review or evaluate the evidence, in which case, it is a question of law; otherwise, it will be a question of fact. Thus, the petition must not involve the calibration of the probative value of the evidence presented.11 In addition, the facts of the case must be undisputed, and the only issue that should be left for the Court to decide is whether or not the conclusion drawn by the CA from a certain set of facts was appropriate.12

In the present case, however, the circumstances surrounding the ownership of the property that is central to the parties' disagreement are put at issue. A resolution of this point will require a re-evaluation of the evidence on record. In an appeal via certiorari, the Court may not review the factual findings of the CA,13 and petitioners have not shown that this case falls under any of the recognized exceptions to this rule.14

Nonetheless, even if the Court were to exercise utmost liberality and veer away from the rule, the records will show that, indeed, petitioners failed to establish their case by a preponderance of evidence.

In civil cases, the burden of proof to be established by a preponderance of evidence is on the party who is asserting the affirmative of an issue.15 Preponderance of evidence means probability of truth. It is evidence that is more convincing to the court as worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto.16

Petitioners primarily rely on Angel Sembrano's testimony to substantiate their claim. The latter's testimony, however, consists mainly of hearsay, which carries no probative value.17 He did not have personal knowledge as to the execution of the contract of sale between Arsenio and the Masangkay spouses nor the alleged agreement between the former and Teng Ching Lay. He could only testify as to what the deceased had allegedly told him. Thus, any evidence, whether oral or documentary, is hearsay if its evidentiary weight is not based on the personal knowledge of the witness but on the knowledge of some other person not on the witness stand.18

Even if the alleged statement of Arsenio to Sembrano relating to the fact that his father, Teng Ching Lay, was buying a house in Manila, can be admissible in evidence as a declaration against his pecuniary interest under Section 38 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court,19 still, the veracity as to whether the deceased actually made this statement is subject to scrutiny. Clearly, the RTC and the CA cast doubt on Sembrano's credibility, and the Court does not find any reason to hold otherwise.

Time and again, the Court has held that it will not interfere with the trial court's assessment regarding the credibility of witnesses, absent any showing that it overlooked, misapplied or misunderstood some facts or circumstances of weight and substance or that it gravely abused its discretion. Here, both the RTC and the CA were not convinced of the truthfulness of Sembrano's bare testimony. He did not present any documentary proof to support his statements, particularly with regard to the P200,000 check that he supposedly gave to Arsenio for the payment of the property in question.

Furthermore, Sembrano's testimony on behalf of petitioners is about an alleged declaration against an interest of a person who is dead in an action that is in effect a claim against his estate. Such a testimony if coming from a party would be barred by the surviving parties rule, or the dead man's statute, in the Rules of Court:

Section 23, Rule 130. Disqualification by reason of death or insanity of adverse party. - Parties or assignors of parties to a case, or persons in whose behalf a case is prosecuted, against an executor or administrator or other representative of a deceased person, or against a person of unsound mind, upon a claim or demand against the estate of such deceased person or against such person of unsound mind, cannot testify as to any matter of fact occurring before the death of such deceased person or before such person became of unsound mind.

And while Sembrano is not a party, he is practically a surrogate of petitioners since he was the personal accountant of their predecessor-in-interest and the corporate accountant of the corporation he controlled.

At any event, the issues propounded by petitioners have been discussed lengthily and ruled upon by the RTC and the CA in their respective decisions. Hence, the Court does not deem it necessary to further delve into these matters. The evidence on record supports the assailed findings and conclusions specifically with regard to the ownership of the property in question that is reflected in the Torrens title20 which was issued in the name of Arsenio pursuant to the deed of sale.

As a rule, the findings of fact of the trial court, especially when adopted and affirmed by the CA, are final and conclusive and may not be reviewed on appeal to this Court.21 This Court is not a trier of facts and generally does not weigh anew the evidence already passed upon by the CA.22 Absent any showing that some facts of certain weight and substance were overlooked which, if considered, would affect the outcome of the case, the Court, as in this case, will uphold the findings of the RTC and the CA.

Consequently, since petitioners failed to prove that Teng Ching Lay was the real owner of the property involved herein, their proposition that a constructive trust exists must likewise fail.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals, dated January 31, 2002 and May 7, 2002, respectively, in CA-G.R. CV No. 47804, are AFFIRMED.

Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, Chairperson, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Garcia, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

2 Rollo, pp. 70-75.

3 TSN, March 9, 1993, pp. 2-4.

4 Art. 344 of the Civil Code states: "Grandparents and in their default the oldest brother or sister shall exercise parental authority in case of death or absence of the child's parents. If the parents are living, or if the child is under guardianships, the grandparents may give advice and counsel to the child, to the parents or to guardian;"

Art. 355 of the Civil Code states: "Substitute parental authority shall be exercised by the grandparents in the following order:

(1) Paternal grandparents;

(2) Maternal grandparents."

5 TSN, February 1, 1994, p. 12.

6 Rollo, p. 72.

7 Id. at 72-73.

8 Id. at 90.

9 Id. at 77.

10 Sambar v. Levi Strauss & Co., G.R. No. 132604, March 6, 2002, 378 SCRA 364.

11 Vda. de Arroyo v. El Beaterio del Santissimo Rosario de Molo, L-22005, May 3, 1968, 23 SCRA 525.

12 Commissioner of Immigration v. Garcia, L-28082, June 28, 1974, 57 SCRA 603.

13 Reyes, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 127703, January 18, 2002, 374 SCRA 86.

14 The exceptions to this rule are: 1) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; 2) when there is a grave abuse of discretion; 3) when the finding is grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; 4) when the judgment of the Court of Appeals is based on misapprehension of facts; 5)when the findings of facts are conflicting; 6) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; 7) when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; 8) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; 9) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and, 10) when the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record (Go v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 112550, February 5, 2001, 351 SCRA 145).

15 C & S Fishfarm Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 122720, December 6, 2002, 394 SCRA 82.

16 Go v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 112550, February 5, 2001, 351 SCRA 145.

17 Waterous Drug Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 113271, October 16, 1997, 280 SCRA 735.

18 Philippine Home Assurance Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 106999, June 20, 1996, 257 SCRA 468.

19 SEC. 38. - - The declaration made by a person deceased, or unable to testify, against the interest of the declarant, if the fact asserted in the declaration was at the time it was made so far contrary to declarant's own interest, that a reasonable man in his position would not have made the declaration unless he believed it to be true, may be received in evidence against himself or his successors in interest and against third persons.

20 A Torrens title is incontrovertible against any informacion possessoria, of other title existing prior to the issuance thereof not annotated on the Torrens title (Republic v. Orfinada, Sr., G.R. No. 141145, November 12, 2004, 442 SCRA 342).

21 Lubos v. Galupo, G.R. No. 139136, January 16, 2002, 373 SCRA 618.

22 Far East Bank and Trust Company v. Querimit, G.R. No. 148582, January 16, 2002, 373 SCRA 665.




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