G.R. No. 83974 August 17, 1998
SPOUSES NARCISO RONGAVILLA and DOLORES RONGAVILLA, Petitioners, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and MERCEDES DELA CRUZ and FLORENCIA DELA CRUZ, Respondents.
For review on appeal by certiorari are the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 06543, promulgated on March 11, 1988, and the Resolution 2 dated June 28, 1988, denying petitioners' motion for reconsideration.
The appealed decision affirmed in toto the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City in Civil Case No. LP-8790-P, which disposed of the controversy as follows:
As gleaned from the record, the private parties are closely related. Plaintiffs below, now the private respondents, are the aunts of herein petitioner Dolores Rongavilla. Both spinsters, they earn their livelihood as embroiderers ("magbuburda") and dressmakers; although unschooled in English, they are however able to read and write in Tagalog. Since they are of advanced age (Mercedes de la Cruz, 60 and Florencia de la Cruz, 71), their day to day activities were confined mostly close to home.
The property subject of this controversy between kith and kin is a parcel of land, located in Manuyo, Las Piñas, Rizal (now Metro Manila) owned by private respondents, in the proportion of one-half (1/2) pro-indiviso, with another niece named Juanita Jimenez as co-owner of the other one-half. The whole parcel consisted of 131 square meters and was covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 5415 of the Register of Deeds of the Province of Rizal. This OCT, as well as the Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. S-28903 after the parcel was subdivided, was kept in the possession of Juanita Jimenez, who is the elder sister of Dolores Rongavilla.
Although the basic fact situation here might appear all too familiar, the legal controversy itself is notable for having passed through the entire channel of the justice system. 4 The present petition before us was given due course per Resolution 5 dated June 26, 1989; but it was denied on September 20, 1989, for non-compliance with certain requirements; 6 although, upon motion for reconsideration by the petitioners showing compliance, it was reinstated 7 on September 2, 1991.
Considering the circumstances in this case, including the relationship of the parties, it behooves this Court now to examine closely and carefully the questioned judgment and the record below. For the Court could not but be mindful of the codal admonition that:
From the facts found below, it appears that in the month of May, 1976, the private respondents borrowed the amount of two thousand (P2,000) from the petitioners for the purpose of having their (respondents') dilapidated rooftop repaired.
A month later, petitioner Dolores Rongavilla and her sister Juanita Jimenez visited their aunts' home, bringing with them a document for the signature of their aunts. The document is admittedly typewritten in English. When asked in Tagalog by one of the aunts, respondent Mercedes de la Cruz, what the paper was all about, Dolores Rongavilla answered also in Tagalog, that it was just a document to show that the private respondents had a debt amounting to P2,000. On account of that representation, private respondents signed the document.
In September 1980, or after a lapse of over four years, petitioner Dolores Rongavilla went to private respondents' place and asked them to vacate the parcel in question, claiming that she and her husband were already the new owners of the land.
Surprised by petitioners' moves, private respondents with the help of friends went to the Office of the Register of Deeds of the Province of Rizal to verify the matter. They discovered that their Certificate of Title had been cancelled and a new one, Transfer Certificate of Title No. S-28903, had been issued in favor of petitioners. They further discovered that said parcel of land had been mortgaged with the Cavite Development Bank by the petitioners. It was only then that the private respondents realized that the document they had previously been asked by their nieces to sign was a deed of sale.
On February 3, 1981, private respondents filed with the Court of First Instance, now Regional Trial Court, of Pasay City the sworn complaint 8 to have the purported deed of sale declared void and inexistent, for being fictitious and simulated, and secured by means of fraud and misrepresentation. They alleged that they did not sell their property in question to the defendants; that they did not receive any consideration on the supposed sale; that their Original Certificate of Title was cancelled and TCT No. S-28903 was issued in favor of defendants (herein petitioners), who thereafter mortgaged said title for a total of P40,000.00 to the damage and prejudice of the plaintiffs. They also claimed moral and exemplary damages, as the court might determine.
Petitioners duly filed their answer 9 after the denial of their motion to dismiss, alleging that plaintiffs (now the private respondents) sold their parcel of land voluntarily, that there was consent to the deed of sale, that there was sufficient consideration therefor, and that the document on the sale was complete in itself and in due form, enabling the Register of Deeds to cancel their old TCT and issue a new one. Petitioners further stated that private respondents were fully apprised by the Notary Public, Atty. Arcadio G. Espiritu, on what the document was all about, and having understood the explanation made by said Notary Public, they voluntarily affixed their signatures on said document. Petitioners also asserted as affirmative and/or special defenses that prescription had set in and that private respondents no longer had a cause of action, and that the deed of sale contained all the pre-requisites of a contract, namely consent of the parties, consideration or a price certain, and determinate thing or object; and could no longer be annulled. They also claimed moral and exemplary damages.
The trial court's judgment, quoted at the outset, being adverse to the petitioners, they seasonably appealed. And after their rebuff at the appellate level, they come now to this Court on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, citing the following grounds for their petition:
With a slight variation but consistent with the grounds they have relied on, petitioners raise in their Memorandum 11 the following:
These issues may be synthesized into one: Did the respondent Court of Appeals commit reversible error when it upheld the trial court's judgment that the disputed Deed of Sale (Exhibit "1") is void and inexistent?
To resolve this pivotal issue, it must be noted that private respondents, as plaintiffs below, based their complaint to declare the disputed deed void and inexistent on two fundamental grounds: (1) lack of consent and (2) want of consideration. Under oath, they strongly denied selling or even just agreeing to sell, their parcel of land to their niece and nephew-in-law. During the hearing, they also denied going to and appearing before the Notary Public who prepared the deed of sale. They also vehemently denied receiving any consideration for the alleged sale. They added that their signatures on the purported deed of sale were obtained by fraud and misrepresentation as petitioners had misled them to believe the document was just a paper to evidence a debt of P2,000 they obtained to buy G.I. sheets for the repair of their leaking roof. 12 Private respondents were shocked and got sick when they were told by petitioners that they (respondents) were no longer the owners of the land. 13
On these two points of consent and consideration, the trial court found that:
To these findings by the trial court, the Court of Appeals in its own decision assented. In addition, it laid stress an the point of lack of consideration by quoting agreeably the trial judge's holding thereon:
And before concluding, the appellate court reiterated the proper characterization of the deed of sale in question, not as an annullable contract, but as a void and inexistent contract as found by the trial court:
Dissatisfied, petitioners now seek from this Court the reversal of the judgment below. They insist in their petition before us that the deed is valid; and that because of the statute of limitations, after the lapse of four years from its execution and registration, it could no longer be annulled.
They assert that "the presumption that contracts are presumed to be valid and to be supported by lawful and good consideration has not been overthrown;" and that "a stipulation in consideration of one dollar is just as effectual and valuable as a larger sum stipulated or paid". 17
They further assert that since private respondents signed the Deed of Sale, as a public instrument, the truth of the recitals therein embodied could only be impugned and disproved, not by mere preponderance of evidence, but by evidence of "the clearest and most satisfactory character, convincing and overwhelming." 18 Petitioners further state that since they have been the ones paying real estate taxes on the property, rather than their aunts, the latter by their acts had confirmed the deed executed by them. 19
Despite the petitioners' insistence that the deed of sale is presumed valid and, being registered, could not be disturbed anymore, we however find their arguments and ratiocination less than persuasive. While petitioners would not want the deed of sale to be impugned, they themselves contradict the recitals therein. On the vital point of consideration, they and their witnesses, namely Juanita Jimenez and Atty. Arcadio Espiritu repeatedly declared that the true consideration paid for the sale of the land was not P2,000 as stated in their own Exhibit "1", the Deed of Sale, but in fact P7,800.00. 20
Petitioner Dolores Rongavilla herself on cross-examination testified as follows:
By their own testimony, the petitioners are pictured as not exactly averse to bending the truth, particularly the purported consideration. Sadly, the irony of it is that while they claimed they were regularly paying taxes on the land in question they had no second thoughts stating at the trial and later on appeal that they had resorted to doctoring the price stated in the disputed Deed of Sale, allegedly "to save on taxes". That admission surely opens the door to questions on the integrity, genuineness and veracity of said public instrument.
Thus, the trial court could not be said to err in asserting that "while it is true that public documents are presumed genuine and regular under the provisions of the Rules of Court, this presumption is a rebuttable presumption which may be overcome by clear, strong and convincing evidence." 22
Moreover, Exhibit "1", the deed itself, shows that contrary to the testimony of the notary public, who appeared as a witness for petitioners, what was originally typed therein was the amount of "Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000)", which later on was substituted by the handwritten amount now of "Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000)." 23 There is no need to speculate on the motivation for this alteration. The notary public might have just wanted to further save on taxes, rather than short-change the coffers of the government. But, again, the whole fabric of petitioners' claim to the sanctity of the deed as public instrument had thereby been shredded.
If as petitioners claimed on trial, the price paid was P7,800 while their deed showed only P2,000, after the amount of P3,000 in the deed was altered, one may well inquire: which figure could this Court believe? Could one say that the trial and the appellate courts both erred in holding that no consideration passed from the buyer to the seller?
But petitioners herein would further take to task the appellate court for grave abuse of discretion, as well as for a reversible error, in having relied on the "purported Certification of the Bureau of Internal Revenue which was not offered in evidence". Since this is a petition under Rule 45, however, we will not dwell on the alleged grave abuse of discretion but limit our observation to the alleged error of law. The BIR certificate was the subject of the testimony of witnesses at the hearing where both parties took full advantage of the opportunity for direct and cross-examination as well as rebuttal and
Now even if the matter of the official certification by the BIR is set aside, the whole question of the TAN being fake or belonging to somebody else, would boil down to one of credibility between the two camps. Unfortunately for the petitioners herein, the trial court found them and their witnesses far from credible. As remarked by the trial Judge, "the declarations of defendants [herein petitioners] do not inspire rational belief." 28 It would thus appear that the trial court and the appellate court committed no grave error of law, that would impel us on this point to override their judgment.
Neither can we give assent to the assertion of petitioners that the appealed Court of Appeals (CA) decision here as well as the judgment below is "contrary to settled jurisprudence". This Court in Rivero v. Court of Appeals, 80 SCRA 411 (1977) had occasion already to affirm a trial court's judgment declaring null and void the questioned deed of sale where it found:
In Ocejo, Perez & Co. vs. Flores, 40 Phil. 921 (1920), regarding the sale of land in Tayabas, Quezon, the Court confronted a similar question:
Concluded the Court, after reviewing the series of transactions on record:
This Court in Mapalo v. Mapalo, 17 SCRA 114 (1966) stated:
The "problem" before the Court "is whether a deed which states a consideration that in fact did not exist, is a contract, without consideration, and therefore void ab initio, or a contract with a false consideration, and therefore, at least under the Old Civil Code, voidable." This problem arose, as observed by the Court, because the questioned "deed of sale" between the brothers Magpalo, in 1936, stated that it had for its consideration Five Hundred (P500.00) Pesos. In fact, however, said "consideration was totally absent." 33
Thus, the Court concluded:
Turning now to the issue of prescription, it follows that once the disputed deed is found to be inexistent and void, the statute of limitations cannot apply. As the courts below ruled, the cause of action for its declaration as such is imprescriptible. 35 Petitioners-spouses contend, however, that this is contrary to settled jurisprudence because the applicable precedent should be Pangadil v. CFI of Cotabato, 116 SCRA 347 (1982). But the fact situation of that case differs radically from the present controversy. There the Court upheld the dismissal of the action to declare a document known as "Ratificacion de Una Venta" as inexistent and void after finding that it was "not a contract wherein the parties do not intend to be bound at all," that no circumstance was alleged to sustain the contention "that the execution of the aforesaid document is contrary to public policy;" 36 and that for 27 years the petitioners did not even care to verify the status of the land in question. "Their inaction for such a considerable period of time reflects on the credibility of their pretense that they merely intended to confirm an oral mortgage, instead of a sale of the land in
Here in the present case, there is no doubt about the credibility of plaintiffs below (herein private respondents) in pursuing their cause promptly and forcefully. They never intended to sell, nor acceded to be bound by the sale of their land. Public policy is also well served in defending the rights of the aged to legal protection, including their right to property that is their home, as against fraud, misrepresentation, chicanery and abuse of trust and confidence by those who owed them candor and respect.
More to the point, in our view, is Baranda v. Baranda, 150 SCRA 59 (1987), where this Court found that:
And if the passage of time could not cure the fatal flaw in the inexistent and void contract, neither could an alleged ratification or confirmation thereof. Further, as in the case before us, reconveyance is proper. "The defect of inexistence of a contract is permanent and incurable, hence it cannot be cured either by ratification or by prescription. . . . There is no need of an action to set aside a void or inexistent contract; in fact such action cannot logically exist. However, an action to declare the non-existence of the contract can be maintained; and in the same action, the plaintiff may recover what he has given by virtue of the contract." 40
Given the circumstances of the case and there being no reversible error in the challenged decision, we are in accord with the judgment below and find the petitioners' appeal without merit. For as well said in the Court of Appeals' Decision and Resolution under review, "We cannot contemplate of the rather absurd situation, which defendants-appellants would ineluctably lead [u]s to, where plaintiffs-appellees would sell their only house, in which they have lived for so many years, in order to secure the measly sum of P2,000.00 to repair the roof of their only house, which would all be lost to them anyway upon the consummation of the sale. They would then become homeless, and the repaired roof would be of no use to them." 41 Experience which is the life of the law - as well as logic and common sense - militates against the petitioners' cause.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision and the Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 06543 are hereby AFFIRMED.
Costs against petitioners.
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