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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 149238 : November 22, 2007]

SIXTO ANTONIO, Petitioner, v. SPS. SOFRONIO SANTOS & AURORA SANTOS, SPS. LUIS LIBERATO & ANGELINA LIBERATO and SPS. MARIO CRUZ & VICTORIA CRUZ, Respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

This is an appeal from the Decision1 dated July 31, 2001 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 58246, affirming, with modification, the Decision2 dated October 7, 1997 of Branch 72, Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Antipolo, Rizal in Civil Case No. 1261-A. The RTC had dismissed the complaint for Reconveyance, Annulment of Title and Damages filed by petitioner Sixto Antonio against respondents.

The antecedent facts, culled from the records, are as follows:

On September 19, 1988, petitioner Sixto Antonio filed before Branch 72, RTC, Antipolo, Rizal, a complaint for Reconveyance, Annulment of Title and Damages against respondents spouses Sofronio and Aurora Santos, Luis and Angelina Liberato, and Mario and Victoria Cruz. The complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. 1261-A.

In his complaint,3 Antonio alleged that he is the absolute owner of a 13,159-square meter parcel of land denominated as Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D, Cainta-Taytay Cadastre, situated in Barangay San Juan, Cainta, Rizal. He averred that, as evidenced by certificates of payment of realty taxes for the years 1918 and 1919, the property was previously owned by his father and that in 1984, he filed before Branch 71, RTC, Antipolo, Rizal, an application for the registration of two parcels of land, one of which was Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D, situated in Barangay San Juan, Cainta, Rizal. His application was docketed as Land Registration Case No. 142-A (LRC No. 142-A).

Although the RTC, Branch 71, declared him the true and absolute owner in fee simple of the two parcels of land he applied for, it set aside its decision with respect to Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D in an Order dated August 21, 1986, to avoid duplication of issuance of titles.

Antonio said that after investigation, he discovered that Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D was already titled in the name of respondents. He then filed the complaint for Reconveyance, Annulment of Title and Damages against respondents, averring that respondents committed fraud in their application for titling because they made it appear in their application for registration that the subject property was located in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig, Rizal, when in fact, the property is located in Barangay San Juan, Cainta, Rizal. He added, respondents also made it appear in their application for registration that the subject property is bound on the North East by the Pasig River when in fact it is bound on the North East by the Tapayan River. Furthermore, the Pasig River does not traverse any portion of the jurisdiction of Cainta, Rizal. He argued that Original Certificate of Title No. 108 (OCT No. 108) in respondents' names, insofar as it included Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D, is, therefore, null and void because it was obtained through fraudulent misrepresentations and machinations.

In their Answer4 dated July 26, 1989, respondents averred that OCT No. 108 was duly issued to them by the Register of Deeds for Metro Manila, District II, on May 20, 1977. They alleged that prior to the issuance of OCT No. 108, they, as registered owners, had always been in peaceful possession of the property and at no time had Antonio possessed the property, nor did he ever make any claim against the said property.

The RTC of Antipolo, Rizal, Branch 72, in a Decision dated October 7, 1997 dismissed the complaint and ordered Antonio to pay respondents moral damages and attorney's fees. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered DISMISSING the instant complaint, and orders plaintiff as follows:

1. To pay defendants Sofronio Santos, Aurora Santos, Sps. Luis Liberato and Angelina Santos, the amount of P100,000.00 each, by way of moral damages;

2. To pay defendants the amount of P60,000.00, by way of attorney's fees, and costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.5

The Court of Appeals in a Decision dated July 31, 2001 affirmed with modification the abovementioned decision by deleting the award of moral damages and attorney's fees. The dispositive portion of the decision of the Court of Appeals states:

WHEREFORE, with modification deleting [or] setting aside the award for moral damages and attorney's fees, the decision appealed from is AFFIRMED with costs against the plaintiff-appellant.

SO ORDERED.6

Hence, the instant petition, raising the following issues:

I.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN NOT HOLDING THAT THE DECISION IN LAND REGISTRATION CASE NO. 142-A, LRC RECORD NO. 58707, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF ANTIPOLO CITY, BRANCH 71, IS SUFFICIENT BASIS OF PETITIONER'S CLAIM OF RIGHT OF OWNERSHIP OVER THE PROPERTY SUBJECT OF ACTION FOR RECONVEYANCE.

II.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN TREATING PETITIONER'S ACTION FOR RECONVEYANCE AS ONE FOR TITLING OF A PARCEL OF LAND.

III.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN NOT HOLDING THAT RESPONDENTS HAVE FRAUDULENTLY REGISTERED AND TITLED SUBJECT PROPERTY IN THEIR NAMES.

IV.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT RESPONDENTS' MOTHER ACQUIRED SUBJECT PROPERTY FROM HER FATHER, GAVINO SANTOS, WHICH THE LATTER ALLEGEDLY PURCHASED FROM LADISLAO RIVERA.

V.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COURT A QUO DISMISSING PETITIONER'S ACTION FOR RECONVEYANCE.7

Simply put, the issues raised are: (1) Did the Court of Appeals err in not holding that the decision in LRC No. 142-A was sufficient basis of petitioner's claim of ownership over the subject property? (2) Did the Court of Appeals and RTC erroneously treat petitioner's action for reconveyance as one for titling of a parcel of land? (3) Did respondents fraudulently title the subject property in their names? (4) Did the Court of Appeals err in finding that respondents' mother acquired the subject property from her father, Gavino Santos, who purchased it from Ladislao Rivera? and (5) Did the Court of Appeals err in affirming the decision of the RTC dismissing petitioner's action for reconveyance?cra lawlibrary

Petitioner argues that the Court of Appeals erred in not holding that the decision in LRC No. 142-A is sufficient basis for his claim of ownership over the property; in treating his action for reconveyance as one for titling; in not holding that respondents had fraudulently registered the property in their names; and in holding that respondents' mother had acquired the subject property from her father, Gavino Santos, who allegedly bought the property from Ladislao Rivera.

Respondents, on the other hand, in their Comments,8 contend that they have proved they have a better title to the property. They argue that petitioner's attempt to register Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D in his name is tainted with fraud, and that petitioner had failed to adduce any evidence of fraud on their part. They assert that their documentary and testimonial evidence which were unrebutted by petitioner show original ownership of the land by Ladislao Rivera from whom their grandfather bought the property.

After serious consideration, we find that petitioner's arguments lack merit.

On the first issue, petitioner argues that in LRC No. 142-A, the RTC of Antipolo, Branch 71, rendered a Decision on January 7, 1986 adjudicating ownership of two lots, including Lot No. 11703, CAD 688-D, in his favor. He adds that on February 19, 1986, after said decision has become final and executory, the said RTC issued a certification for issuance of decree, directing the Land Registration Commission to issue the corresponding decree of registration. Hence, he argues, his right of ownership over the land has already been fully established, but no certificate of title was issued to him only because the property was already registered in the name of respondents.

But we agree with respondents that petitioner cannot rely on the decision in LRC No. 142-A. As pointed out by the Court of Appeals, even if a title had been issued to petitioner based on said decision, his title would be of a later date than the title of respondents, hence inefficacious and ineffective. This Court has ruled that, when two certificates of title are issued to different persons covering the same land in whole or in part, the earlier in date must prevail; and in case of successive registrations where more than one certificate is issued over the same land, the person holding a prior certificate is entitled to the land as against a person who relies on a subsequent certificate.9

On the second issue, petitioner contends that it is very apparent the RTC and Court of Appeals had the notion that his case a quo was not an action for reconveyance, but rather an application for registration of land where the applicant and oppositor had to prove their respective registrable titles. This, he adds, could be gleaned from the RTC's findings that "the claim of plaintiff on the basis of said documents cannot prevail over the adverse, public, open, peaceful and continuous possession by the defendants over the subject property," and that "it was indubitably shown that the defendants have occupied said property since time immemorial while plaintiff has never at anytime taken possession of said property."

We find petitioner's contentions unconvincing. For an action for reconveyance based on fraud to prosper, this Court has held that the party seeking reconveyance must prove by clear and convincing evidence his title to the property and the fact of fraud.10 The RTC, in making the abovementioned findings, was not treating petitioner's action for reconveyance as one for titling of property. But it was weighing whether petitioner has, by clear and convincing evidence, proven his title to the property. Moreover, the RTC, in its decision, discussed the merits of petitioner's ground for his action for reconveyance, i.e. whether or not respondents committed fraud in titling the subject property in their names. The RTC held that as shown by public records in the custody of the RTC, Pasig City and the Land Registration Authority, petitioner's claim that the property was fraudulently titled in the names of respondents is baseless. Thus, petitioner's contention that the RTC and the Court of Appeals treated his action for reconveyance as one for titling of property lacks any persuasive basis.

On the third and fourth issues, we find them to be factual issues, hence beyond our jurisdiction to resolve. In a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, this Court's power of review is limited to questions of law only.11

Note, however, should be taken of the established doctrine that an action for reconveyance resulting from fraud prescribes four years from the discovery of the fraud. Such discovery is deemed to have taken place upon the issuance of the certificate of title over the property. Registration of real property is considered a constructive notice to all persons, thus, the four-year period shall be counted therefrom.12 It appears that OCT No. 108 was issued to respondents by the Register of Deeds for Metro Manila on May 20, 1977. From the time of registration of the land in the name of respondents on May 20, 1977 to the filing of the complaint on September 19, 1988, more than four years had already elapsed. Hence, it cannot be denied that petitioner's action had already prescribed.

Based on the foregoing considerations, we find that the Court of Appeals did not err in affirming the decision of the RTC dismissing petitioner's action for reconveyance.

Finally, concerning the deletion of moral damages and attorney's fees, we agree with the ruling of the Court of Appeals that here an award of moral damages is not warranted since the record is bereft of any proof that Antonio acted maliciously or in bad faith in filing the action.13 Neither should attorney's fees be awarded. The accepted rule is that the reason for the award of attorney's fees must be stated in the text of the trial court's decision; otherwise, if it is stated only in the dispositive portion of the decision, the same must be disallowed.14 In this case, we find that the trial court's decision failed to show the reason for the award of attorney's fees, hence it was properly deleted by the appellate court.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed Decision dated July 31, 2001 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 58246 is AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Tinga, Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 32-45. Penned by Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr., with Associate Justices B.A. Adefuin-De La Cruz and Josefina Guevara-Salonga concurring.

2 Records, Vol. I, pp. 616-635. Penned by Judge Rogelio L. Angeles.

3 Id. at 1-6.

4 Id. at 66-71.

5 Id. at 635.

6 Rollo, p. 45.

7 Id. at 15-16.

8 Id. at 124-148.

9 Chan v. Court of Appeals (Special Seventh Division), G.R. No. 118516, November 18, 1998, 298 SCRA 713, 725.

10 Barrera v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 123935, December 14, 2001, 372 SCRA 312, 316.

11 Guanga v. Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 150187, March 17, 2006, 485 SCRA 80, 88-89.

12 Philippine Economic Zone Authority v. Fernandez, G.R. No. 138971, June 6, 2001, 358 SCRA 489, 498.

13 Francel Realty Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 117051, January 22, 1996, 252 SCRA 127, 134.

14 Agustin v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 84751, June 6, 1990, 186 SCRA 375, 384.




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