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[G.R. No. 147390.June 18, 2001]

FELISA P. SORIANO et al. vs. HEIRS OF AGUSTIN SOLIMAN

SECOND DIVISION

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 18 2001.

G.R. No. 147390(Felisa P. Soriano, Leonisa Perez, and Ananias Perez vs. Nurneriano Perez, Cesar Perez, Gil Perez, collectively known as the Heirs of Agustin Soliman.)

Deogracias Perez was, in his lifetime, the owner of several parcels of land, identified as Lot Nos. 3023, 3032, 3033, 3033-A and 3034, in Sitio Taghangin, Maybancal, Morong, Rizal. Petitioners claim that Deogracias Perez had only two sons, namely, Dominador and Carmelo, upon whose death, they (petitioners) became the owners of lands in question. Petitioners allege that during the lifetime of Deogracias, Francisca Soliman stayed in the house of Deogracias and was treated as a member of his family; that Francisca had a child, Agustin Soliman; that sometime between 1928 and 1929, Deogracias Perez asked Agustin Soliman to represent him during the cadastral survey of lands conducted in Morong, Rizal; that representing himself to be a son of Deogracias Perez and using the name Agustin Perez, Agustin Soliman succeeded in having Lot No. 3023 registered in his assumed name; that it was only in 1993, when Lot No. 3023 was offered for sale, that petitioners learned of this fact; that by reason thereof, one of the herein petitioners, Felisa P. Soriano, filed a complaint before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); and that on December 14, 1993, respondents, who are the heirs of Agustin Perez, entered into a compromise agreement with the herein petitioners in which the former acknowledged the ownership and possession of the latter. It is further alleged that on May 31, 1994, petitioners filed a protest with the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which, on July 17, 1995, declared petitioners' predecessor-in-interest, Carmelo Perez, as the true and actual owner of the lot in question.

It appears that while the case was thus pending before the DENR, respondents filed a complaint for "quieting of title with damages" against petitioners in the Regional Trial Court. The case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, but, on March 23, 1995, respondents refiled the case in the Municipal Trial Court of Morong, Rizal. Respondents alleged that pursuant to a certification of the Bureau of Forest Development, Lot No. 3023 was, prior to its occupation by Agustin Perez in 1928, a public land; that Agustin Perez had paid the realty tax on the land; that petitioners, claiming to be the owner of the land, filed a complaint before the Office of the Barangay Captain of Barangay San Juan, Morong, Rizal, but the parties failed to settle their dispute; and that petitioners also filed a protest in the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the DENR in Antipolo, Rizal, which was pending until then.

Petitioners moved to dismiss the case on the ground that respondents failed to comply with the rule on certification of non-forum shopping and requirement of barangay conciliation. For this reason, on September 22, 1995, the MTC suspended the proceedings and referred the case to the Lupon Tagapamayapa for conciliation.

On May 20, 1998, the MTC rendered judgment for respondents. The dispositive portion of its decision reads:

WHEREFORE, foregoing considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring:

(a) Plaintiffs [respondents herein] as the true, lawful, and exclusive owners of the land denominated as Lot No. 3023 and PSL-16 of the Morong Cadastral with an area of 3,571 sq. meters situated in Hardin, San Juan, Morong, Rizal;

(b) As a consequence, the Court hereby declare the claim of defendants and intervenors over the subject lot as null and void and without force and effect;

(c) Ordering defendants and intervenors to pay plaintiffs equally the sum:

1. P5,000.00 as attorney's fees and costs of suits.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioners filed a motion for new trial and/or reconsideration, but their motion was denied. They appealed to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, but they again lost as the RIG affirmed the decision and the order of the MTC. Petitioners suffered further setbacks as the Court of Appeals dismissed their petition for review and later denied their motion for reconsideration.

Hence, this petition for review on certiorari.

First, petitioners contend that the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the jurisdiction of the MTC despite the fact that under the law the DENR has exclusive jurisdiction over cases concerning the disposition of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. Petitioners claim that the filing of respondents' complaint before the regular courts amounted to forum-shopping which should not have been allowed.

This contention has no merit. The MTC had undoubted jurisdiction over respondents' action for quieting of title. There is forum-shopping when a party against whom an adverse judgment has been rendered in one forum seeks another, and possibly favorable, opinion in another forum, other than by appeal or by special civil action of certiorari. There is also forum-shopping when two or more actions or proceedings, grounded on the same cause, are instituted on the expectation that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition (See PNB-Republic Bank v. Court of Appeals, 314 SCRA 328 (1999); Marina Properties Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 294 SCRA 273 (1998)). In this case, as the Court of Appeals observed, the complaint filed by respondents before the MTC is in the nature of a possessory action while the protest filed by petitioners in the DENR involved the determination of the disposition and alienation of public lands.

Second, petitioners claim the proceedings before the MTC should be annulled on the ground of fraud, by reason of which they were deprived of effective legal representation through the negligence of their two former counsels.

Petitioners anchor their argument by citing the following instances, to wit: their former counsel, Atty. Jose F. Tiburcio, neither presented evidence in their behalf nor cross-examined any of the witnesses presented by the respondents; that during hearings Atty. Tiburcio would leave the courtroom early; that Atty. Reynaldo Soriano, the counsel who replaced Atty. Tiburcio, refused to discuss the case with them; that during the almost one and a half year that Atty. Soriano represented the petitioners, only two pleadings were filed, an urgent ex parte motion for extension of time to file comments on the case and another urgent ex parte motion to file comments on the case and reset case; that though they were given extensions for filing comment, none was filed within the extended period; that Atty. Soriano failed to attend some scheduled hearings, the last of which was that set on February 24, 1997; and that petitioners were not informed of the decision of the MTC which they came to know only when they were served a copy of the said decision.

Petitioners' claim has no basis. A final decision may be annulled on the ground that the judgment is void for want of jurisdiction or lack of due process of law or that it has been obtained by fraud. The fraud must be extrinsic or collateral in character, as a result of which the losing party was not heard. It must be distinguished from intrinsic fraud which refers to acts of a party at a trial which prevented a fair and just determination of the case and which could have been litigated and determined at the trial or adjudication of the case (Salonga v. Court of Appeals, 269 SCRA 534 (1997) citing Santos v. Court of Appeals, 224 SCRA 673 (1993)). In this case, the enumerated negligent acts of petitioners' two former counsels were not due to some fraudulent acts perpetrated by respondents outside the trial of the case.

Neither do the alleged procedural lapses of petitioners' counsel warrant an annulment of the judgment of the MTC. It is well-settled that the negligence of counsel binds the client. The only exceptions are those cases in which a party is deprived of due process of law because of the reckless or gross negligence of counsel. This is not the case here. The essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit any evidence one may have in support of one's defense. Where opportunity to be heard, either through oral arguments or pleadings, is accorded, there is no denial of due process (Gacutana-Fraile v. Domingo, G.R. No. 138518, December 15, 2000).

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of showing that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) TOMASITA B. MAGAY-DRIS
Clerk of Court


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