[G.R. No. 146965.June 18, 2001]
CHACON, et al. vs. FRANCO-ESPITAL,
hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 18 2001.
G.R. No. 146965(Virgilio,
Oscar, Cesar, all surnamed Chacon, et al. vs. Trinidad Franco-Espital, et al.)
The spouses Juan Cuevas
and Alejandra Tolentino had three children, namely, Juliana, Diego, and Flora.
The spouses claimed ownership of two lots in Hagonoy, Taguig, Rizal, with a
total area of 12,417 square meters, which Juan Cuevas had allegedly occupied
even before 1894.
In 1953, after Juan and
Alejandra had died, respondent Trinidad Franco-Espital, daughter of Juliana,
and her husband Inocentes Espital applied for the issuance of an Original
Certificate of Title (OCT) over the aforementioned lots before the then Court of
First Instance, Pasig, Rizal. They claimed that Trinidad had purchased one lot
from her brother and inherited the other from her mother Juliana. On September
30, 1953, the trial court granted the application and ordered the issuance of
the title in favor of the applicants. Accordingly, on January 28, 1954, the
Registrar of Deeds of Rizal issued to respondent Trinidad and her husband,
Inocentes Espital, OCT No. 720 covering the lots in question.
On November 29, 1996, more
than 42 years after the issuance of the aforementioned title to respondent
Trinidad Espital and her husband, petitioners, who are descendants of Juan
Cuevas' two other children, Diego and Flora, sued Trinidad and her three
children before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 154, Pasig City, for annulment
of title, partition, and damages on the ground that respondent Trinidad
fraudulently procured the issuance of the title over the disputed properties to
the alleged prejudice of petitioners' hereditary rights. Their action was
dismissed, however, on the ground of prescription and laches. Petitioners
appealed to the Court of Appeals which affirmed the trial court's decision.
Their motion for reconsideration was likewise denied. Hence this petition.
Petitioners contend that
as co-owners of the lots in question, their action for partition is
imprescriptible. In addition, they contend that by virtue of such co-ownership, a constructive trust exists between
the parties such that respondents are merely holding the disputed properties on
behalf of the other co-owners not to mention
that respondent Trinidad Franco-Espital and her husband procured title over the
lots through fraud.
These contentions have no
merit. Petitioners' reliance on Art. 494 of the Civil Code, which provides that
prescription shall not run in favor of a co-owner, is misplaced. By the
judgment of the then Court of First Instance of Pasig, Rizal, acting as a land
registration court, decreeing the issuance of title over the properties in
favor of respondent Trinidad Franco-Espital and her husband, the disputed lots
became their exclusive property (See Gabas
de Velayo v. Court of Appeals (99 SCRA 110 (1980)). Land registration
proceedings are proceedings in rem and
the judgment thereon, excepting only those who have appeared and filed their pleading,
is binding on the whole world (Cachero v. Martin, 196 SCRA 601 (1991);
Gestosani v. Insular Development Co., Inc., 21 SCRA 114 (1967)).
Even assuming that by
reason of fraud, a constructive trust was created in favor of petitioners, the
rule is that in such cases and so long as the land has not yet passed to an
innocent purchaser for value, the aggrieved party may file an action for
reconveyance on the ground of breach of constructive trust within ten years
from the issuance of the original certificate of title over the property (Civil
Code, Arts. 1144(2) and Art. 1456; Amerol v. Bagumbaran, 154 SCRA 396 (1987);
Tale v. Court of Appeals, 208 SCRA 266 (1992)).
Since petitioners brought
suit against respondents only in 1996, more than 42 years after the Torrens
title over the disputed lots was issued in favor of respondent Trinidad
Franco-Espital and her husband on January 28, 1954, their action, even if
considered as one also for reconveyance and not merely for partition, is
clearly barred by prescription.
Furthermore, laches, as
found by the trial court and the Court of Appeals, has indeed set in against
petitioners. Petitioners give no explanation why it took them more than four
decades to question the title issued to respondent Trinidad Franco-Espital and
her husband. They alleged in their brief before the Court of Appeals that they
became aware of the title only "immediately prior to the filing of their
complaint" but failed to substantiate such claim. In any event, considering
that the 1953 proceedings before the Court of First Instance, Pasig, Rizal was in rem, petitioners are deemed to have
been notified through the publication of the notices of the filing of the
application and are deemed included in the order of general default issued by
Petitioners' reliance on Sotto v. Teves, 86 SCRA 154 (1978), to
support their contention that their Suit can prosper, is unavailing. In that
case, the counsel for the three co-owners, who had prepared the instrument by
which his clients expressly acknowledged the existence of their co-ownership,
fraudulently caused the parcels of land commonly owned by the latter to be
transferred in the name of one of the co-owners, who, in turn, subsequently
bequeathed the parcels of land to him (counsel). For this reason, the Court
ruled that such co-owner cannot deprive the others of their share in the
properties and that the co-owners' counsel received the properties impressed
with the subsisting trust not for himself but for the benefit of the cestui que trust, such that neither
prescription nor laches will lie to bar recovery of the properties. These
circumstances are absent in the case at bar and thus militate against the
application of the aforementioned ruling.
For the foregoing reasons,
the Court RESOLVED to DENY the petition for lack of showing that the Court of Appeals committed a reversible error.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd.) TOMASITA B. MAGAY-DRIS
Clerk of Court