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THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 118744 January 30, 1998

IRENEO V. GUERRERO, Petitioner, vs. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, JOSEFA VDA. DE ALMEDA, ANGELITA A. CRUZ, ERLINDA A. CHIKIAMCO, FREDESVINDA A. CONSUNJI, ZENAIDA. ROXAS, EMMANUEL M. ALMEDA, ERMELO M. ALMEDA, DOMINADOR M. ALMEDA and BENJAMIN M. ALMEDA, Respondents.

 

ROMERO, J.:

Petitions Ireneo Guerrero seeks to set aside the resolution 1 of the Court of Appeals which awarded to private respondents the ownership of two lots in Camarines Sur.

The facts, as found by the Court of Appeals, are as follows:

On August 12, 1971, the then Court of First Instance of Camarines Sur issued a decision in Cadastral Case No. N-4, LRC Cadastral Record No. 81, adjudicating Lots Nos. 735 and 742 situated in Naga City to Felipa Balandra (Balandra) on the basis of which, Decree No. N-138629 was issued. Consequently, on February 29, 1972 the Registry of Deeds of Naga City issued Original Certificate of Title No. 396 to Balandra which covered the two (2) lots.

On February 17, 1973, Balandra sold the lots to petitioner. Subsequently, Transfer Certificate of Title No. 6864 was issued to him.

On August 14, 1973, petitioner filed a complaint against Josefa Almeda (Almeda) with the then CFI of Camarines Sur (presided over by Judge Delfin Vir. Sunga who had earlier issued the decision in the cadastral case) for quieting of title and recovery of possession of real property with damages. Petitioner alleged that the agents of Almeda had driven him and his men out of the lots by force, threats and intimidation and has since been gathering the fruits thereof.

Almeda, in her answer, claimed ownership and long-standing possession over the lots. She stated that petitioner acquired the lots from Balandra in bad faith knowing that Almeda was the real owner, and that Balandra obtained OCT No. 396 by means of fraud.

During the trial of the case, Almeda showed that the lots were brought by a certain Fidel Pascua from one Rosario Villareal, which he later sold to Almeda's husband Dominador and two other persons, namely Macario Guballa and Gregorio Sison per a Deed of Absolute Sale registered in the Registry of Unregistered Property on June 24, 1953. When Dominador died on April 13, 1965, his heirs (herein private respondents) and Guballa and Sison partitioned the property they owned in common and the two subject lots were allotted to the heirs of the Almeda couple. The latter has since been paying the taxes on the property.

The trial court rendered a decision in the case, the dispositive portion of which states:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, decision is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiff and against defendant:

(1) Quieting the plaintiff's title to the two parcels of land described in the complaint and/or removing the cloud cast thereon by the defendant, by declaring the plaintiff the lawful owner thereof and entitled to their possession;

(2) Ordering the defendant to vacate said property and to restore the possession thereof to the plaintiff;

(3) Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the value of the fruits of said property at the rate of P50,000.00 a year or P450,000.00 for nine years covering the periods 1973 to 1982, inclusive, with interest until paid; P25,000.00 expenses for labor and construction materials; P10,000.00 as moral damages; and P2,000.00 as attorney's fees and other expenses incident thereto;

(4) Ordering defendant to pay the costs of suit. The counterclaim of defendant is hereby dismissed.

SO ORDERED.

Almeda then went to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in toto the decision of the trial court on January 31, 1981. On March 1, 1986, the appellate decision became final and executory. Entry of judgment was made on May 19, 1986 and the records were remanded to the trial court.

On July 17, 1986, petitioner filed a Motion for Execution and the court issued a writ of execution which was served on Almeda on August 4, 1986. By virtue of the said writ, some real properties of Almeda were attached and levied on execution.

On August 1, 1986, Almeda filed a Motion to Vacate Entry of Judgment and Set Aside Order of the RTC dated July 23, 1986, as well as the Writ of Execution and to Recall Records of the Case. She also asked for Leave to File Motion for Reconsideration on the ground that a copy of the appellate court's decision was not personally received by Almeda's then counsel Atty. Jacobo Briones because he was in the States at that time. The same was received instead by one Mrs. Brigida M. Pangiliwan, Atty. Briones' former clerk.

On August 15, 1986, the appellate court denied Almeda's motion to vacate entry of judgment.

Meanwhile, private respondents Angelita, Erlinda, Fredesminda, Zenaida, Emmanuel, Ermelo, Dominador and Benjamin, the children, of Josefa and Dominador Almeda, filed an urgent ex-parte motion to be allowed to file a third party claim and to lift the levy on execution on their properties.

On September 9, 1986, Almeda filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the resolution which denied her Motion to Vacate Entry of Judgment.

The appellate court, in a resolution dated September 23, 1986, required petitioner to comment on the said motion and ordered the sheriff to desist from implementing the writ of execution in order that the motion for reconsideration would not become moot and academic.

The appellate court required the transmittal of the records back to it to resolve the Motion for Reconsideration.

On June 8, 1989, the Almeda children filed a petition with the same court seeking the annulment of the judgment in Cadastral Case No. N-4, LRC Cadastral Records No. 81, CFL Camarines Sur, Branch 1, and of the judgment rendered in Civil Case No. R-176 (7259), CFI Camarines Sur, Branch I, for damages, and with motion for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction. The respondents in the petition were herein petitioner, Balandra and Judge Sunga.

Considering that the appeal in one case and the petition in the other were both filed by private respondents against petitioner and involving the same facts, the appellate court consolidated the two cases. An amended petition was later filed substituting Alfredo Balandra Balo for Balandra upon the latter's death.

In their petition for annulment of judgment, private respondents traced their title and claim of ownership to their father Dominador T. Almeda and stated that Balandra, by means of fraud, obtained a decree in her name in the cadastral case. They further claimed that Judge Delfin Vir. Sunga and his staff were involved in the fraud.

On May 22, 1991, Judge Sunga and Balo were declared by the appellate court in default for their failure to file their respective Answers.

The case was set for hearing and the appellate court scheduled a pre-trial conference. It issued a resolution on November 24, 1993 containing a pre-trial statement with the following partial stipulation of facts:

1. On August 12, 1971, then Presiding Judge, Hon. Delfin Vir. Sunga of the Court of First Instance of Camarines Sur rendered judgment in Cad. No. N-4, NLRC No. N-81 (Exh. "C").

2. By virtue of the August 12, 1971 Decision of Judge Delfin Vir. Sunga, the then Commissioner of Land Registration Gregorio Bilog, Jr. issued Decree No. N-138629 in favor of Balandra (Exh. "B-2").

3. Based on Decree No. N-138629, Rolando G. Alberto, then Register of Deeds for Naga City, issued OCT No. 396 to Felipa Balandra on April 12, 1972 (Exh. "B").

4. OCT No. 396 covers the subject Lots 735 and 742, situated in Barrio Cararayan, Naga City, Camarines Sur.

5. The City of Naga, Camarines Sur, was surveyed under Cad-290 on July 30, 1949 and approved on May 23, 1953 (Exh. "I").

6. The subject Lots 735 and 742, situated in Cararayan, Naga City, Camarines Sur are covered by Cad. No. 290, Case No. 3 of the Naga City, Cadastre (Exhs. "F" & "G").

7. The subject Lots 735 and 742 are covered by a Location Plan under Naga Cadastre BL 290, Case 3, approved on March 25, 1954 (Exh. "F").

8. The claimants under Cad. No. 290, Case No. 3 are Fidel Pascua vs. Heirs of Epifania Candelaria (Exh. "G").

9. All the records of Cad. N-4, Case N-81 were burned, together with all other existing records prior to June, 1976 (Exh. "J").

10. There is on file with the Registry of Deeds for Naga City, a document entitled Deed of Absolute Sale of Real Property dated June 24, 1953 executed by Fidel Pascua in favor of Dominador T. Almeda, Macario Guballa and Gregorio Sison (Exh. "K").

11. There is on file with the Registry of Deeds for Naga City, a document entitled Extrajudicial Partition of Estate, dated February 28, 1966 (Exh. "L").

12. The Extrajudicial Partition of Estate (Exh. "L") was published in the Bicol Mail on June 18, 1967, June 25, 1957 and July 2, 1967 (Exhs. "M", "N" & "O").

13. The Bicol Mail is a newspaper of general circulation in Naga City.

14. The members of the Almeda family, including the late Dominador T. Almeda, the late Josefa M. Almeda, and the petitioners are well known personalities in Naga City.

15. The Almeda family is the owner of lands adjacent to lots 735 and 742.

16. In CC No. R-176 (7529) in CFI-Naga (CA-G.R. CV No. 01568), the petitioners were not impleaded as the indispensable parties.

The issues were stated as follows:

1) May the CFI judgment in CAD No. N-4, LRC No. N-81 be annulled?

2) The effect of the annulment (if this be so) to the title in the name of Felipa Balandra and to that of respondent Ireneo Guerrero as well as to the judgment in Civil Case No. R-176 (7529) rendered by CFI Camarines Sur.

3) May said judgment in CC No. R-176 (7529) be annulled for the further reasons that the case decided by CFI, Camarines Sur is essentially, by the allegation of the complaint, for forcible entry and not for the ownership of the property and granting it is an action for ownership, but that only Josefa Almeda and not the real owners of the disputed property was made defendant?

4) May reconveyance be granted?

In allowing the case to proceed to the pre-trial stage, the appellate court ruled that:

(1) private respondents' amended petition stated sufficient causes of action against petitioner.;

(2) the petition is not barred by prescription as the Torrens system of registration is not intended to shield fraud and further that registration is not a mode of acquiring ownership;

(3) the court has jurisdiction over the action.

During the trial conducted by the appellate court for the annulment of the judgment of the lower court, private respondents presented Engineer Jose Cayabyab, Chief Surveys Division, Land Registration Services, DENR, Region V, Legaspi City. He testified that other than these is only one cadastre for Naga City - specifically CAD-290.

His testimony was supported by that of Geodetic Engineer Privaldo Daliri, who stated that there is no unsurveyed portion of Naga City. Lots 735 and 742 were surveyed under CAD 290 in the name of "Fidel Pascua v. Heirs of Epifania Candelaria." As stated earlier, the two lots were co-owned by the father of private respondents, Dominador Almeda, together with Macario Guballa and Gregorio Sison in the Deed executed by Fidel Pascua on June 24, 1953. Upon the death of Dominador, his heirs (private respondents) agreed with Guballa and Sison on how the property acquired from Pascua was to be divided and lots 735 and 742 were allocated to the said heirs or more specifically, Almeda's children. (Their mother, Josefa Vda. de Almeda, had been allocated another property when Dominador's heirs executed the extra judicial partition).

Private respondents had always been in possession of the lots and had people working on them. Renato Lleba declared that he had farmed the property since 1966 and that it was in May 1973 when petitioner Guerrero went to the property. His entry was blocked by Lleba himself who told him that the said land was owned by the Almedas. The appellate court noted that the lots in question are surrounded by other lands also belonging to the Almedas.

After hearing all the evidence proffered by both parties, the appellate court decided in favor of private respondents. First, it ruled that the judgment of the CFI that led to the issuance of OCT No. 316 and the judgment of the same court (presided over by the same judge) which resulted in petitioner's title to the lots being upheld, are both null and void.

Testimonial and documentary evidence presented before the appellate court established that: (1) there is only one cadastre covering Naga City, namely CAD 290, Case 3; (2) that Lots 735 and 742 are covered by CAD-290 and that being the case, the purported CAD No. N-4, LRC No. N-81 upon which the judgment of Judge Vir. Sunga was based is false. Petitioner was unable to rebut this evidence.

The name of Felipa Balandra, in whose favor the lots were adjudicated by the said judge, does not appear in the records of the Bureau of Lands as claimant or applicant for the said properties. In the questioned decision, it was even stated that the lots are "uncontested" when the truth was there was a case between Fidel Pascua and the heirs of Epifania Candelaria.

The appellate court concluded that the judgment was procured by Balandra in fraudulent colusion with the lower court.

Secondly, petitioner sued private respondent's mother Josefa, who had no interest in the property as it was the Almeda children who were the owners thereof, by virtue of the extra judicial partition executed when Dominador Almeda died.

The dispositive portion of the appellate court's decision states:

WHEREFORE, and upon all the foregoing, We sustain the petitioners in the annulment of the judgments of the court below both in Cadastral Case No. N-4, LRC Castral Record No. N-81, as well as the judgment in Civil Case No. R-176 (7529), hereby declaring the two (2) lots under question open for registration by the appropriate owners or owners, with acknowledgment of the Almeda children's claim of ownership as being in the possession of said lots openly, continuously, exclusively, notoriously and in the concept of owners.

The writ of execution, the levy on execution and other proceedings in connection therewith undertaken in the court below in Civil Case No. R-176 (7529) are SET ASIDE.

The claims for damages by both contending parties are DISMISSED for lack of adequate proof and support thereof.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Aggrieved by the judgment of the Court of Appeals, petitioner filed the instant petition.

We find the petition to be devoid of merit.

Petitioner raises the following questions of fact which the Court of Appeals resolved only after it conducted a full trial on the matter: (1) whether the cadastral number was fake or not; (2) whether the subject lots are surrounded by the other Almeda properties or not; (3) whether the testimonies of Renato Lleba (the Almedas' tenant) and of Angelita Almeda Cruz are credible or not; (4) whether the Almedas' have been in possession of the property for years; and (5) if he (petitioner) was a buyer in good faith or not.

In innumerable cases, we have held that findings of fact by the Court of Appeals will not be disturbed by the Court unless these findings are not supported by evidence.

In the instant case, the appellate court went to great lengths to determine the factual circumstances by holding pre-trial conferences, requiring the parties to submit a stipulation of facts, hearing testimonies and personally questioning the witnesses.

After reviewing the records, we see no reason to disturb the appellate court's findings which we find are amply supported by evidence.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Melo, Francisco and Panganiban, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:

1 Cezar D. Francisco, J., ponente, Alfredo L. Benipayo and Buenaventura J. Guerrero, JJ., concurring.




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