G.R. No. 113539 March 12, 1998
CELSO R. HALILI and ARTHUR R. HALILI, Petitioners, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, HELEN MEYERS GUZMAN, DAVID REY GUZMAN and EMILIANO CATANIAG, Respondents.
The factual findings of a trial court, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, may no longer be reviewed and reversed by this Court in a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. The transfer of an interest in a piece of land to an alien may no longer be assailed on constitutional grounds after the entire parcel has been sold to a qualified citizen.
These familiar and long-settled doctrines are applied by this Court in denying this petition under Rule 45 to set aside the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals 2 in CA-GR CV No. 37829 promulgated on September 14, 1993, the dispositive portion of which states: 3
The factual antecedents, as narrated by Respondent Court, are not disputed by the parties. We reproduce them in part, as follows:
Petitioners, who are owners of the adjoining lot, filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan, questioning the constitutionality and validity of the two conveyances - between Helen Guzman and David Rey Guzman, and between the latter and Emiliano Cataniag - and claiming ownership thereto based on their right of legal redemption under Art. 1621 5 of the Civil Code.
In its decision 6 dated March 10, 1992, 7 the trial court dismissed the complaint. It ruled that Helen Guzman's waiver of her inheritance in favor of her son was not contrary to the constitutional prohibition against the sale of land to an alien, since the purpose of the waiver was simply authorize David Rey Guzman to dispose of their properties in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines, and not to subvert them. On the second issue, it held that the subject land was urban; hence, petitioners had no reason to invoke their right of redemption under Art. 1621 of the Civil Code.
The Halilis sought a reversal from the Court of Appeals which, however, denied their appeal. Respondent Court affirmed the factual finding of the trial court that the subject land was urban. Citing Tejido vs. Zamacoma, 8 and Yap vs. Grageda, 9 it further held that, although the transfer of the land to David Rey may have been invalid for being contrary to the Constitution, there was no more point in allowing herein petitioners to recover the property, since it has passed on to and was thus already owned by a qualified person.
Hence, this petition. 10
The petition submits the following assignment of errors:
The Court's Ruling
The petition has no merit.
First Issue: The Land Is Urban;
Thus, No Right of Redemption
The first two errors assigned by petitioners being interrelated - the determination of the first being a prerequisite to the resolution of the second - shall be discussed together
Whether the land in dispute is rural or urban is a factual question which, as a rule, is not reviewable by this Court. 12 Basic and long-settled is the doctrine that findings of fact of a trial judge, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are binding upon the Supreme Court. This admits of only a few exceptions, such as when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises or conjectures; when an inference made by the appellate court from its factual findings is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; when there is grave abuse of discretion in the appreciation of facts; when the findings of the appellate court go beyond the issues of the case, run contrary to the admissions of the parties to the case or fail to notice certain relevant facts which, if properly considered, will justify a different conclusion; when there is a misappreciation of facts; when the findings of fact are conclusions without mention of the specific evidence on which they are based, are premised on the absence of evidence or are contradicted by evidence on record. 13
The instant case does not fall within any of the aforecited exceptions. In fact, the conclusion of the trial court - that the subject property is urban land - is based on clear and convincing evidence, as shown in its decision which disposed thus:
No Ground to Invoke
In view of the finding that the subject land is urban in character, petitioners have indeed no right to invoke Art. 1621 of the Civil Code, which presupposes that the land sought to be redeemed is rural. The provision is clearly worded and admits of no ambiguity in construction:
Under this article, both lands - that sought to be redeemed and the adjacent lot belonging to the person exercising the right of redemption - must be rural. If one or both are urban, the right cannot be invoked. 15 The purpose of this provision, which is limited in scope to rural lands not exceeding one hectare, is to favor agricultural development. 16 The subject land not being rural and, therefore, not agricultural, this purpose would not be served if petitioners are granted the right of redemption under Art. 1621. Plainly, under the circumstances, they cannot invoke it.
Neither do we find any reversible error in the appellate court's holding that the sale of the subject land to Private Respondent Cataniag renders moot any question on the constitutionally of the prior transfer made by Helen Guzman to her son David Rey.
True, Helen Guzman's deed of quitclaim - in which she assigned, transferred and conveyed to David Rey all her rights, titles and interests over the property she had inherited from her husband - collided with the Constitution, Article XII, Section 7 of which provides:
The landmark case of Krivenko vs. Register of Deeds 17 settled the issue as to who are qualified (and disqualified) to own public as well as private lands in the Philippines. Following a long discourse maintaining that the "public agricultural lands" mentioned in Section 1, Article XIII of the 1935 Constitution, include residential, commercial and industrial lands, the Court then stated:
The Krivenko rule was recently reiterated in Ong Ching Po vs. Court of Appeals, 19 which involves a sale of land to a Chinese citizen. The Court sad:
In fine, non-Filipinos cannot acquire or hold title to private lands or to lands of the public domain, except only by way of legal succession. 21
But what is the effect of a subsequent sale by the disqualified alien vendee to a qualified Filipino citizen? This is not a novel question. Jurisprudence is consistent that "if land is invalidly transferred to an alien who subsequently becomes a citizen or transfers it to a citizen, the flaw in the original transaction is considered cured and the title of the transferee is rendered valid." 22
Thus, in United Church Board of Word Ministries vs. Sebastian, 23 in which an alien resident who owned properties in the Philippines devised to an American non-stock corporation part of his shares of stock in a Filipino corporation that owned a tract of land in Davao del Norte, the Court sustained the invalidity of such legacy. However, upon proof that ownership of the American corporation has passed on to a 100 percent Filipino corporation, the Court ruled that the defect in the will was "rectified by the subsequent transfer of the property."
The present case is similar to De Castro vs. Tan. 24 In that case, a residential lot was sold to a Chinese. Upon his death, his widow and children executed an extrajudicial settlement, whereby said lot was allotted to one of his sons who became a naturalized Filipino. The Court did not allow the original vendor to have the sale annulled and to recover the property, for the reason that the land has since become the property of a naturalized Filipino citizen who is constitutionally qualified to own land.
Likewise, in the cases of Sarsosa vs. Cuenco, 25 Godinez vs. Pak Luen, 26 Vasquez vs. Li Seng Giap 27 and Herrera vs. Luy Kim Guan, 28 which similarly involved the sale of land to an alien who thereafter sold the same to a Filipino citizen, the Court again applied the rule that the subsequent sale can no longer be impugned on the basis of the invalidity of the initial transfer.
The rationale of this principle was explained in Vasquez vs. Li Seng Giap thus:
Accordingly, since the disputed land is now owned by Private Respondent Cataniag, a Filipino citizen, the prior invalid transfer can no longer be assailed. The objective of the constitutional provision - to keep our land in Filipino hands - has been served.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The challenged Decision is AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner.
Davide, Jr., Bellosillo, Vitug and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.
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