January 2006 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 151339 - EDITHA M. FRANCISCO v. ROQUE CO, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 151339 - January 31, 2006]
EDITHA M. FRANCISCO, Petitioner, v. ROQUE CO and/or MARIANO CO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The parcel of land that lies at the center of this case is covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 44546, issued by the Quezon City Register of Deeds registered in the name of Pastora Baetiong.1 It has spawned at least three (3) different cases involving the parties, spanning the course of three (3) decades. Before this Court is the third of the cases, the resolution of which ultimately hearkens back to the pronouncements made in the first two (2) cases. Appropriately, the main issue before us is the applicability of res judicata.
The legal controversy was first sparked after the death of Pastora Baetiong in 1975 by a complaint for accion publiciana filed against the heirs of Baetiong, including petitioner, by respondents Roque Co and Mariano Co, involving the above-mentioned parcel of land, and another property, covered by TCT No. 63531 issued by the Caloocan City Register of Deeds. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-38464 and assigned to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 101.
The said complaint was settled when the parties entered into a Compromise Agreement dated 10 November 1983, which was duly approved by the Branch 101.2 In the Compromise Agreement, the parties acknowledged the heirs of Baetiong as the owner of the subject properties. Further, it was agreed upon that the heirs of Baetiong would lease to respondents a portion of the properties, totaling between 25,000 square meters to 30,000 square meters, covering land then already occupied by respondents. The lease agreement, which was contained in a Contract of Lease, was to subsist for 15 years commencing retroactively from 1 October 1983.
Five (5) years after the execution of the Compromise Agreement and Contract of Lease, the heirs of Baetiong filed a Motion with the Quezon City, RTC, Branch 101, wherein they alleged that respondents were actually occupying a larger portion of their land than the 30,000 square meter limit agreed upon in the Compromise Agreement. They prayed that a commission be constituted for the proper enforcement of the Compromise Agreement.
The RTC granted the motion, but this action was challenged by respondents by way of a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition which was docketed as CA-G.R. SP. No. 18032. This is the second of the three (3) cases earlier referred to. In a Decision rendered on 12 July 1990, the Court of Appeals reversed the RTC and declared that the judgment by compromise rendered in Civil Case No. Q-38464 "was finally terminated and executed".3 The appellate court concluded that the constitution of a commission for the purpose of delineating the bounds of the leased portion of the property would serve no purpose, considering that the Compromise Agreement itself mandated that the parties immediately conduct a delineation of the subject property for proper inclusion in the Contract of Lease. According to the Court of Appeals, when the Contract of Lease was executed on the same day, the Compromise Agreement was already deemed to have been fully implemented and duly enforced.4
The Court of Appeals made several other conclusions which are worthy of note. It ruled that since the Contract of Lease specified that the leased portion had an area of "approximately" three (3) hectares (or 30,000 sq.m.), the area occupied by respondents was the same property agreed upon for lease by the parties in the Compromise Agreement. On the claim that the area leased was actually in excess of 7,659 sq. meters, the Court of Appeals held that the heirs of Baetiong were precluded by laches and negligence from asserting such claim, as they had remained silent for almost five years in contesting the subject area.
In sum, the Court of Appeals set aside the RTC order constituting a commission, and declared "the judgment by compromise rendered in Civil Case No. Q-38464 as finally terminated and executed." This Decision attained finality after the Supreme Court declined to give due course to a Petition for Review filed by the heirs of Baetiong, through a Resolution dated 10 June 1991.
Four (4) years later, or on 24 July 1995, petitioner filed a complaint for forcible entry against respondents before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Quezon City, docketed as Civil Case No. 13158. This is the instant case and the third of the cases earlier adverted to. Petitioner alleged therein that she was the owner in fee simple of a parcel of land, denominated as Lot No. 2-F-4, with an area of 5,679 square meters, encompassed under TCT No. 44546, which she inherited from her mother per a 1978 Extra-Judicial Settlement of Estate which caused the subdivision of the property into several lots.
Petitioner maintained that on 19 July 1995, respondents, through agents, entered Lot No. 2-F-4 and started fencing the said property. In their answer, respondents alleged that the property over which petitioner was asserting her rights was covered under the Contract of Lease which had been executed pursuant to the earlier Compromise Agreement. Respondents also cast doubt on the validity of the 1978 Extra-Judicial Settlement of Estate.5 Respondents also pointed out that assuming petitioner had a cause of action against them, the same was barred by res judicata, particularly the 12 July 1990 Decision of the Court of Appeals which had since attained finality.
The MeTC ruled in favor of petitioner in a Decision6 dated 13 November 1996, such disposition being subsequently affirmed by the RTC on 31 March 1999.7 The MeTC ruled that petitioner was indeed the owner and prior possessor of Lot No. 2-F-4, as evidenced by the Extra-Judicial Settlement. The MeTC also concluded that the Contract of Lease expressly delineated the coverage of the lease agreement as totaling only three (3) hectares, which according to the MeTC, excluded Lot No. 2-F-4 of the subdivision plan.8 On the issue of res judicata, the MeTC and RTC found that res judicata did not apply, owing to the absence of the requisite of identity of causes of action. Both courts noted that the instant action concerned a complaint for forcible entry, while the earlier case pertained to the execution of a contract of lease.
The MeTC ordered the respondents to pay petitioner the amount of
P500.00 per day beginning 21 July 1995 as reasonable compensation until the vacation of the property. The RTC likewise ordered that the case be remanded to the MeTC for immediate execution, and it appears that the judgment was executed while the case was litigated before the Court of Appeals.
On 17 August 2000, the Court of Appeals Thirteenth Division issued its Decision9 reversing the rulings of the lower courts. The Court of Appeals ruled that the complaint for forcible entry was indeed barred by res judicata. It was held that while there was a difference in the forms of the two actions, there was nonetheless a similarity of causes of action in the two cases, as the same evidence would support and establish both the former and present causes of action. It was observed that the evidence to be presented by the contending parties in both actions was that which would support their allegation of having a better right to the possession of the subject property.
The appellate court expounded that that matter of preference of right of petitioners over the property by virtue of the lease contract was already settled by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032. As the Contract of Lease was still in effect at the time of the supposed forcible entry, petitioner was declared as having no basis in alleging such infraction. Moreover, the Court of Appeals ruled that the contention that Lot No. 2-F-4 was not included in the Contract of Lease had also been resolved in CA-G.R. SP. No 18032, particularly the declarations therein that:
It is very clear that the area now occupied by the lessee petitioners is the property that was actually agreed upon by the lessees-petitioners and private respondents-lessors as stipulated in said contract of lease.10
The Court of Appeals also concluded that due to malicious prosecution, respondents were liable for moral damages of
P30,000.00, exemplary damages of P20,000.00, and attorney's fees of P20,000.00.
Hence the present petition.
Petitioner insists that res judicata does not apply in this case, owing to the difference between the two causes of actions. Petitioner also claims that Lot No. 2-F-4 stands outside the lots covered by the lease contract. Petitioner also argues that res judicata could apply only to facts and circumstances as they existed at the time the judgment was rendered. On this point, petitioner points out that four (4) years had elapsed between the final judgment in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032 and the filing of the instant complaint, which was governed by new facts and conditions due to the intrusion by respondents into Lot No. 2-F-4.
The central issue obviously concerns the binding force of the decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032, which respondents claim bars the present complaint due to res judicata. On this score, the matter would be best illuminated by pointing out that there are two aspects to the doctrine of res judicata. The first, known as "bar by prior judgment," is the effect of a judgment as a bar to the prosecution of a second action upon the same claim, demand or cause of action. The second, known as "conclusiveness of judgment," issues actually and directly resolved in a former suit cannot again be raised in any future case between the same parties involving a different cause of action.11
The lower courts, in considering the question of res judicata, seem to have taken into account only the first kind of res judicata, "bar by prior judgment," which involves identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action.12 Indeed, the arguments of the parties, and the ratiocinations of the lower courts center on whether there was identity in the causes of action in the case for execution of the lease contract and that of forcible entry. If the case hinges on that point alone, it is easy to force a simplistic reading that a complaint for forcible entry involves a different cause of action or right-duty correlative from that concerning the enforcement of a lease contract, as well as for different reliefs.
However, the Court of Appeals, in reversing the lower courts, invoked Mendiola v. Court of Appeals,13 which involved the application of the first kind of res judicata or "bar by prior judgment."14 In particular, the appellate court cited the rule from Mendiola that "[t]he test of identity of causes of action lies not in the form of an action but on whether the same evidence would support and establish the former and present causes of action."15 Applying this test, it does appear that the present ejectment case could be barred by the prior judgment in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032. The earlier case attempted to establish that respondents were entitled to lease not more than three (3) hectares of TCT No. 44546. In the present case, petitioner is obliged to establish that respondent has no legal right to occupy the portion of TCT No. 44546 denominated as Lot No. 2-F-4. It is possible that the same evidence may be used to establish that petitioners could occupy in excess of three (3) hectares of TCT No. 44546 and they could also occupy Lot No. 2-F-4.
Still, the Court considers the second facet of res judicata, "conclusiveness of judgment" as controlling in this case. Conclusiveness of judgment operates as a bar even if there is no identity as between the first and second causes of judgment. Under the doctrine, any right, fact, or matter in issue directly adjudicated or necessarily involved in the determination of an action before a competent court in which judgment is rendered on the merits is conclusively settled by the judgment therein and cannot again be litigated between the parties and their privies whether or not the claim, demand, purpose, or subject matter of the two actions is the same.16
Evidently, "conclusiveness of judgment" may operate to bar the second case even if there is no identity of causes of action. The judgment is conclusive in the second case, only as to those matters actually and directly controverted and determined, and not as to matters merely involved therein.17
In that regard, we now consider the effect of the declarations on several questions of fact and law earlier made by the Court of Appeals in its Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032, a judgment that has since lapsed into finality. The relevant portion of the ruling stated:
In the case at bar, the parties in pursuance of the judgment by compromise, the substantive portion of which reads:
" . . . d. Area to be leased is that portion actually occupied with building constructions thereon in possession of defendants, more specifically bounded by the road with fence. This may be the subject of an ocular inspection by the parties'./p. 1, Supplemental Pre-Trial Brief of Defendants/ which area be duly delineated by a geodetic survey immediately to be conducted by a geodetic engineer chosen mutually by the parties, and in case of disagreement, by a team composed of three geodetic surveyors/engineers, 1 chosen by plaintiffs, 1 chosen by defendants, and the third to be chosen/commissioned by the Court, whose findings shall be final and binding between the parties, without right of any appeal, the costs of which shall be defrayed by the parties on a 50-50 basis'. (Underscoring supplied.)
executed simultaneously a lease contract, incorporating therein the terms and conditions agreed upon.
The Compromise Agreement speaks for itself. The delineation of the subject property was immediately to be conducted by both parties for proper inclusion in the Contract of Lease. Thus, when the Contract of Lease was executed, the Compromise Agreement have (sic) already been fully implemented and duly enforced. Hence, the constitution of a commission for the purpose of delineating the bounds of the property will serve no other purpose.
As regards the contention of the private respondent that the inclusion of the land in the Contract of Lease is in excess of what was really agreed upon deserves no scant consideration. The fact remains that the contract of lease specifically stipulates, thus:
" . . . certain portions of the above-mentioned parcels of land now actually occupied by the LESSEES with the warehouses/buildings constructed and owned by said LESSEESS, with a road and fences constructed by them, with an approximate area of Three (3) hectares more or less which is hereby delineated as per plan," (Underscoring supplied).
It is very clear that the area now occupied by the lessees - petitioners is the property that was actually agreed upon by the lessees-petitioners and private respondents-lessors as stipulated in said Contract of Lease.
Granting that the area leased is really in excess of 7,659.84 sq. meters as claimed by respondents, the same is already precluded from asserting such contention. Records of the case show that respondents-lessors by their silence and inaction for almost five years in contesting the area subject of the lease constitutes laches that places them in estoppel to assert their alleged right under the compromise agreement. The Motion for Constitution of Commission to delineate the boundaries of the area subject matter of the lease should have been brought earlier before the execution of the contract of lease. Failure to assert this fact within a reasonable time warrants a presumption that the respondents either has abandoned it or declined to assert it.18
There are important conclusions drawn from the quoted pronouncement which are of binding force in this case. First, the Compromise Agreement, which provided that the leased area be delineated by a geodetic survey instituted by both parties, was already deemed as fully implemented and enforced through the simultaneous execution of the Contract of Lease. Second, the Contract of Lease established that the area covered by the agreement constituted those portions of TCT No. 44546 then occupied by respondents, which as approximated as more or less three (3) hectares in area. Third, assuming that the area actually leased to respondents exceeded the stipulated three (3) hectares by 7,659.84 sq. meters (or .76 hectares), the heirs of Baetiong, petitioner among them, had since been barred from asserting such contention by reason of laches.
It should be understood that these pronouncements contained in the earlier Court of Appeals decision have the force of law between the parties. Since this decision establishes the right of respondents to occupy by way of lease a portion of TCT No. 44546 which may even exceed three (3) hectares, it thus becomes imperative for petitioner to establish her cause of action which is that respondent had beyond that which they were entitled to occupy according to the decision of the Court of Appeals. Following the Court of Appeals decision, respondents would be entitled to remain in possession of the portion which they were actually occupying at the time of the execution of the Contract of Lease even if such portion exceeded three (3) hectares.
The instant complaint predicated petitioner's cause of action on her alleged ownership of Lot No. 2-F-4, without any reference to the subsisting Contract of Lease.19 In answer, respondents asserted that they had been in actual possession of the said portion since 1962.20 The decision of the MTC did not dwell on this claim of respondents. Instead, it proceeded from the initial premise that petitioner's right of ownership over Lot No. 2-F-4 was evidenced by the Extra-Judicial Settlement,21 then followed it with the following observations regarding the Contract of Lease:
As could be gleaned from the Contract of Lese dated November 10, 1993, executed between Roman Macabagdal, Edlinda Macabagdal-Francisco and Editha Macabagdal-Francisco (herein plaintiff) as Lessors and Mariano and Roque Co, as Lessees, the same covers only portions of the parcels of land being actually occupied by the defendants with the warehouses/buildings/fences constructed thereon by them at that time with an area of three (3) hectares or 30,000 sq. meters. As shown by the subdivision plan, the said area covers only Lots 2-E, 2-F-1 and 2-F-2, with a total area of 31,624 sq. meters. Hence, the intrusion of the defendants into Lot 2-F-4 with an area of 5,679 sq. meters, which is not covered by the said lease contract, clearly shows their unlawful deprivation of plaintiffs' possession over said property.22
Evidently, the MeTC considered Lot No. 2-F-4 as beyond the scope of the lease agreement because the leased area, as shown by the subdivision plan, covered only three (3) particular lots, namely Lots No. 2-E, 2-F-1, and 2-F-2, with these three lots covering a total area of 3.1 hectares. But that was contrary to the decision of the Court of Appeals. Hence, in order that the trial court could rule in favor of petitioner without unsettling the earlier final and executory decision of the Court of Appeals, it should have been able to establish that Lot No. 2-F-4 was outside the coverage of the Contract of Lease as construed by the appellate court.
This being the case, it was not enough for petitioner to establish that she was the owner of Lot No. 2-F-4 which is the sole allegation in her complaint in support of her cause of action. Neither would it have been sufficient on her part to prove that the three (3) hectares contemplated in the Contract of Lease consisted only of Lots No. 2-E, 2-F-1, and 2-F-2. By reason of the conclusiveness of the final judgment of the Court of Appeals, it was essential on her part to establish that Lot No. 2-F-4 was not among that portion which respondents had been occupying at the time of the execution of the Contract of Lease. Had respondents not been occupying Lot No. 2-F-4 when the Contract of Lease was executed, petitioner would have had the right to seek the ejectment of respondents from the said lot, as the said portion would not have been among that which the Court of Appeals had earlier ruled respondents were entitled to possess by way of lease. However, since the right to institute an action for forcible entry or unlawful detainer extends only in the absence of the right to hold possession, whether by virtue of any contract or otherwise, or upon the expiration of such right, the burden lies on petitioner as plaintiff to establish that respondents had no legal right to enter into possession of Lot No. 2-F-4. Such burden is further militated by the earlier binding declarations of the Court of Appeals on the scope in area of the Contract of Lease.
Moreover, the Court of Appeals also ruled that petitioner was barred from challenging the possession in lease by respondents of an area exceeding the stipulated three (3) hectare limit. Certainly, petitioner cannot predicate her right to withhold Lot No. 2-F-4 from respondents' possession on the basis that such lot exceeds the three (3) hectares as stipulated in the compromise and lease agreements. As earlier stated, given the binding effect of the earlier Court of Appeals decision, the fact that petitioner would have to establish to accord merit to her complaint is that the subject lot was not in the possession of respondents at the time of the execution of the Contract of Lease, and thus not subject to the said contract.
Unfortunately for petitioner, not only did she fail to establish such fact, her very cause of action is not even premised on that ground. The lower courts erred in maintaining blissful ignorance of the Court of Appeals decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 18032 and ruling for petitioner, despite the pronouncements made in that final and executory decision. Indeed, in order that ejectment could be justified, it was imperative on the lower courts to declare, after duly considering the earlier Court of Appeals Decision, that respondents had no existing legal right to possess Lot No. 2-F-4. No conclusion was drawn on such premises; thus, the reversal made by the Court of Appeals must be sustained.
It must be noted that the earlier Court of Appeals decision sustained respondents' right to occupy only a segregate portion of TCT No. 44546, particularly that which they had already been occupying at the time the Contract of Lease was executed. Had petitioner been able to establish before the trial court that Lot No. 2-F-4 is outside that portion already occupied by respondents when the lease contract was executed, her complaint may have been sustained. However, this question of fact was not preponderantly established in the lower courts, and there is no basis for the Court to now make such a de novo factual finding.
One last point. We must reverse the Court of Appeals when it awarded moral and exemplary damages, as well as attorney's fees to respondents. In ruling that petitioner was in bad faith in filing the instant suit, the appellate court predicated this conclusion on the observation that "respondent was well-aware that the issue involved in this case has already been settled by the courts. Due to this, petitioners understandably suffered mental anguish and serious anxiety, thereby entitling them to moral damages."23
The Court is not wont to uphold awards of moral damages based on haphazard conjectures on the awardee's resultant mental state. We cannot agree with the appellate court that bad faith on the part of petitioner had been preponderantly established in this case. Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence, but it imports a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong.24 It should be established by clear and convincing evidence since the law always presumes good faith.25 In ascertaining the intention of the person accused of acting in bad faith, the courts must carefully examine the evidence as to the conduct and outward acts from which the inward motive may be determined.26 Certainly, it does not appear that the Court of Appeals has conducted the mandated careful examination of evidence that would sustain the award of moral damages. Nothing in the record establishes any right to moral damages by respondents.
Neither should exemplary damages avail under the circumstances. The plaintiff must show that he is entitled to moral, temperate or compensatory damages before the court may consider the question of whether exemplary damages should be awarded.27 If the court has no proof or evidence upon which the claim for moral damages could be based, such indemnity could not be outrightly awarded. The same holds true with respect to the award of exemplary damages where it must be shown that the party acted in a wanton, oppressive or malevolent manner. Furthermore, this specie of damages is allowed only in addition to moral damages such that no exemplary damages can be awarded unless the claimant first establishes his clear right to moral damages.28
Contrary to the pronouncement of the Court of Appeals, the mere fact that petitioners were constrained to litigate in order to protect and assert their rights does not ipso facto entitle them to attorney's fees. What Article 2208 (2) of the Civil Code provides, in order that attorney's fees may be awarded, is that "the defendant's act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest". It is settled that the fact that the party was "compelled to litigate and incur expenses to protect and enforce their claim does not justify the award of attorney's fees. The general rule is that attorney's fees cannot be recovered as part of damages because of the public policy that no premium should be placed on the right to litigate. The award of attorney's fees must be deleted where the award of moral and exemplary damages are eliminated."29
WHEREFORE, the PETITION is GRANTED in PART. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 17 August 2000 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of moral, exemplary damages and attorney's fees are DELETED. No costs.
1 Rollo, p. 31.
2 Id. at 110-114.
3 Id. at 126. This decision was penned by Justice A. Dayrit, and concurred in by Justices F. Kalalo and L. Victor.
4 Id. at 125.
5 Id. at 56-57.
6 Penned by Judge Billy M. Apalit.
7 In a Decision penned by Judge Pedro M. Areola.
8 Rollo, p. 64. The MeTC declared that the lots covered by the Contract of Lease were Lots No. 2-E, 2-F-1, and 2-F-2. Id.
9 Penned by Justice E. Bello, Jr., concurred in by Justices D. Vidallon-Magtolis and E. J. Asuncion.
10 Rollo, p. 31.
11 Chua v. Victorio, G.R. No. 157568, 18 May 2004, 428 SCRA 447. See also Section 47(c), Rule 39, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
12 See Oropeza v. Allied Banking Corp., 441 Phil. 551, 564 (2002) citing Gamboa V. Court of Appeals, 108 SCRA 1, 17 (1981).
13 327 Phil. 1156 (1996).
14 Mendiola v. Court of Appeals, id. at 1163.
15 Rollo, p. 33.
16 Dapar v. Biascan, G.R. No. 141880, 27 September 2004, 439 SCRA 179.
17 See Heirs of Pael v. Court of Appeals, G.R. NOS. 133547 & 133843, 11 November 2003, 415 SCRA 451.
18 Rollo, pp. 124-126. Emphasis supplied.
19 Id. at 47-48.
20 Id. at 54.
21 Id. at 64.
23 Rollo, p. 34-35.
24 China Airlines, Ltd. v. Court of Appeals, 453 Phil. 959, 977 (2003) citing Ford Philippines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 335 Phil. 1.
25 Id. at 978.
26 Ibid citing Millena v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 127797, 31 January 2000, 324 SCRA 126.
27 See Civil Code, Art. 2234. See also Northwest Orient Airlines Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 311 Phil. 203 (1995).
28 Mahinay v. Atty. Velasquez, G.R. No. 152753, 13 January 2004, 419 SCRA 118, 122 citing Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 259 SCRA 459 (1996).
29 Ibaan Rural Bank, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 378 Phil. 707, 714 (1999).