G.R. No. 125766 October 19, 1998
FELICIDAD L. ORONCE and ROSITA L. FLAMINIANO, Petitioners, vs. HON. COURT OF APPEALS and PRICILIANO B. GONZALES DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Respondent.
The issue of whether or not a Metropolitan or Municipal Trial Court may resolve the issue of ownership of the property involved in an unlawful detainer case has been discussed by this Court in a number of cases, the more recent of which is that of Hilario v. Court of Appeals. 1 Jurisprudence on the matter has in fact been reflected in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure under Rule 70, to wit:
These developments in the law notwithstanding, there remains some misconceptions on the issue of jurisdiction of inferior courts in ejectment cases where ownership is raised as a defense that the Court deems proper to clarify in this petition.
Private respondent Priciliano B. Gonzales Development Corporation was the registered owner of a parcel of land with an area of 2,000 square meters. The land with improvements, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. RT-54556 (383917), is situated at No. 52 Gilmore Street, New Manila, Quezon City.
In June 1988, private respondent obtained a four million peso -(P4,000,000.00) loan from the China Banking Corporation. To guarantee payment of the loan, private respondent mortgaged the Gilmore property and all its improvements to said bank. Due to irregular payment of amortization, interests and penalties on the loan accumulated through the years.
On April 13, 1992, private respondent, through its president, Antonio B. Gonzales, signed and executed a Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage covering the Gilmore property and its improvements, in favor of petitioners Rosita Flaminiano and Felicidad L. Oronce. 2 The deed, which states that the sale was in consideration of the sum of P5,400,000.00, 3 provided inter alia that
On the other hand, petitioners bound themselves to pay private respondent's indebtedness with China Banking Corporation.
In fulfillment of the terms and conditions embodied in the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, petitioners paid private respondent's indebtedness with the bank. However, private respondent reneged on its obligation to deliver possession of the premises to petitioners upon the expiration of the one-year period from April 13, 1992. Almost six months later since the execution of the instrument or on October 2, 1992, petitioners caused the registration of the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage with the Register of Deeds. Simultaneously, they obtained a new title, TCT No. 67990, consistent with the fact that they are the new owners of the property. 4 Sometime in July 1993, they paid the real estate taxes on the property for which they were issued Tax Declarations Nos. C-061-02815 and C-061-02816. 5
On November 12, 1993, petitioners sent private respondent a demand letter asking it to vacate the premises. Said letter, just like three other consecutive notices sent through the Quezon City post office, was unclaimed. Hence, on April 11, 1994, petitioners filed before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, a complaint for unlawful detainer against private respondent. The complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 8638 was raffled to Branch 41. Petitioners alleged that by virtue of the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, they acquired from private respondent the Gilmore property and its improvements, for which reason they were issued TCT No. 67990. However, they added, in violation of the terms of that document, specifically Sec. 3 (c) thereof, private respondent refused to surrender possession of the premises. Consequently, they demanded that private respondent vacate the premises through notices sent by registered mail that were, however, returned to them unclaimed.
In its answer to the complaint, private respondent raised the issue of ownership over the property. It impugned petitioners' right to eject, alleging that petitioners had no cause of action against it because it was merely a mortgagee of the property. It argued that when the parties executed the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, its real intention was to forge an equitable mortgage and not a sale. It pointed out three circumstances indicative of an equitable mortgage, namely: inadequacy of the purchase price, continued possession by private respondent of the premises, and petitioners' retention of a portion of the purchase price.
On March 24, 1995, the MTC 7 decided the case in favor of petitioners. It ruled that petitioners are the owners of the Gilmore property on account of the following pieces of evidence: (a) TCT No. 67990; (b) petitioners' payment to the China Banking Corporation of P8,500,000.00, the amount of the mortgage entered into between private respondent and said bank; (c) payment of real estate taxes for 1993, and (d) Tax Declaration No. 02816 in petitioners' names. The MTC further held that private respondent's possession of the premises was merely tolerated by petitioners and because it refused to vacate the premises despite demand to do so, then its possession of the same premises had become illegal. Thus, the MTC decreed as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered ordering defendant and all persons claiming rights under it to vacate the premises-in-litis located at No. 52 Gilmore St., New Manila, Quezon City, and to peacefully surrender possession thereof to the plaintiffs; to pay plaintiffs the sum of P20,000.00 a month as compensation for the unjust occupation of the same from April 11, 1994 (the date of filing of this case) until defendant fully vacates the said premises; to pay plaintiffs the amount of P20,000.00 as and for attorney's fees plus costs of suit.
Counterclaim is dismissed for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED. 8
On April 25, 1995, private respondent interposed an appeal to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 219, of Quezon City that docketed it as Civil Case No. Q-95-23697. Private respondent stressed in its appeal that it was not unlawfully withholding possession of the premises from petitioners because the latter's basis for evicting it was the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage that did not reflect the true intention of the parties to enter into an equitable mortgage. Clearly in pursuance of that allegation, private respondent filed a motion questioning the jurisdiction of the RTC to entertain its appeal. On the other hand, petitioners filed a motion for the immediate execution of the appealed decision. The RTC granted the motion on September 21, 1995 and the corresponding writ of execution was issued on September 25, 1995. The following day, the sheriff served upon private respondent the writ of execution and a notice to vacate the premises within five (5) days from receipt thereof.
Meanwhile, during the pendency of its appeal, private respondent filed an action for reformation of instrument with the RTC. It was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-95-24927 and assigned to Branch 227.
In a resolution dated December 7, 1995, RTC Branch 219 asserted jurisdiction over the appeal. It ruled that the issue of whether or not an action for reformation of a deed of sale and an unlawful detainer case can proceed independently of each other has been resolved by this Court in Judith v. Abragan. 9 In said case, this Court held that the fact that defendants had previously filed a separate action for the reformation of a deed of absolute sale into one of pacto de retro sale or equitable mortgage in the same Court of First Instance is not a valid reason to frustrate the summary remedy of ejectment afforded by law to the plaintiff.
On December 12, 1995, private respondent filed in the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari with prayer for a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction against petitioners and RTC Branch 219. It assailed the September 21, 1995 order granting the issuance of a writ of execution pending appeal, the writ of execution and the notice to vacate served upon private respondent (CA-G.R. SP-39227).
On December 13, 1995, RTC Branch 219 10 rendered the decision affirming in toto that of the Metropolitan Trial Court. Stating that in ejectment proceedings, the only issue for resolution is who is entitled to physical or material possession of the premises involved, RTC Branch 219 held that
On that same date, December 13, 1995, the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order enjoining RTC Branch 219 from enforcing the writ of execution and the notice to vacate the premises and on January 15, 1996, the same court granted private respondent's application for a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining the implementation of both the writ of execution pending appeal and the decision of RTC Branch 219.
Around six months later or on July 2, 1996, RTC Branch 227 12 issued an order declaring private respondent non-suited for failure to appear at the pre-trial and, therefore, dismissing the action for reformation of instrument in Civil Case No. Q-95-24927. Private respondent, not having sought reconsideration of said order, the same court issued a resolution on August 15, 1996 directing the entry of judgment in the case. 13 The Clerk of Court accordingly issued the final entry of judgment thereon. 14
In the meantime, on July 24, 1996, the Court of Appeals rendered the herein questioned Decision. 15 It set aside the December 13, 1995 decision of RTC Branch 219 and declared as null and void for want of jurisdiction, the March 24, 1995 decision of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 41. It made permanent the writ of preliminary injunction enjoining petitioners from implementing the decision of RTC Branch 219, the writ of execution and the notice to vacate. In so holding, the Court of Appeals said:
On whether or not private respondent was in estoppel from questioning the jurisdiction of the MTC since it voluntarily submitted thereto the question of the validity of its title to the property, the Court of Appeals said:
Hence, the present petition for review on certiorari where petitioners raise the following assigned errors allegedly committed by respondent Court of Appeals:
Petitioners argue that the precedent laid down in Ching v. Malaya 17 relied upon by the Court of Appeals, was based on the old law, Republic Act No. 296 (Judiciary Act of 1948), as amended, which vested in the city courts original jurisdiction over forcible entry and unlawful detainer proceedings and the corresponding power to receive evidence upon the question of ownership for the only purpose of determining the character and extent of possession. 18 They claim that since the original complaint for unlawful detainer was filed on April 13, 1992, then the applicable law should have been Section 33 (2) of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 (Batas Pambansa Blg. 129). That law vests in the city courts exclusive original jurisdiction over forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases and the corresponding power to receive evidence upon questions of ownership and to resolve the issue of ownership to determine the issue of possession. 19
The history of the law vesting Municipal and Metropolitan Trial Courts with jurisdiction over ejectment cases has invariably revolved upon the assumption that the question of ownership may be considered only if necessary for the determination of the issue as to who of the parties shall have the right to possess the property in litigation. 20 Thus, under the Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended, Section 88 vested municipal and city courts with authority to "receive evidence upon the question of title therein, whatever may be the value of the property, solely for the purpose of determining the character and extent of possession and damages for detention." Section 3 of Republic Act No. 5967 that was enacted on June 21, 1969, provided that city courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction with Courts of First Instance over "ejection cases where the question of ownership is brought in issue in the pleadings" and that the issue of ownership shall be "resolved in conjunction with the issue of possession." Expounding on that provision of law, in Pelaez v. Reyes, 21 this Court said:
Upon the approval on August 14, 1981 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 or the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, however, the power of inferior courts, including city courts, to resolve the issue of ownership in forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases was modified. Resolution of the issue of ownership became subject to the qualification that it shall be only for the purpose of determining the issue of possession. In effect, therefore, the city courts lost the jurisdiction to determine the issue of ownership per se that was theretofore concurrent with the then Courts of First Instance. Thus, Section 33 of B.P. Blg. 129 provides that Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:
Accordingly, the Interim Rules and Guidelines in the implementation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 provides as follows:
Explaining these provisions of law, in Sps. Refugia v. Court of
Another development in the law has emphasized the fact that inferior courts shall not lose jurisdiction over ejectment cases solely because the issue of ownership is interwoven with the issue of possession. Under the 1983 Rules on Summary Procedure, as amended by a resolution of this Court that took effect on November 15, 1991, all forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases shall be tried pursuant to the Revised Rules on Summary Procedure, regardless of whether or not the issue of ownership of the subject property is alleged by a party. 23 In other words, even if there is a need to resolve the issue of ownership, such fact will not deprive the inferior courts of jurisdiction over ejectment
When the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts was expanded, thereby amending Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, by virtue of Republic Act No. 7691 that took effect on April 15, 1994, the jurisdiction of said courts over ejectment cases was retained. Thus, in Hilario v. Court of Appeals this Court said:
In other words, inferior courts are now "conditionally vested with adjudicatory power over the issue of title or ownership raised by the parties in an ejectment suit." 25 These courts shall resolve the question of ownership raised as an incident in an ejectment case where a determination thereof is necessary for a proper and complete adjudication of the issue of possession. Considering the difficulties that are usually encountered by inferior courts as regards the extent of their power in determining the issue of ownership, in Sps. Refugia v. Court of Appeals, the Court set out guidelines to be observed in the implementation of the law which, as stated at the outset, has recently been restated in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. The guidelines pertinent to this case state:
In the case at bar, petitioners clearly intended recovery of possession over the Gilmore property. They alleged in their complaint for unlawful detainer that their claim for possession is buttressed by the execution of the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, a copy of which was attached as Annex "A" to the complaint and by the issuance of TCT No. 67990 that evidenced the transfer of ownership over the property. 27 Because metropolitan trial courts are authorized to look into the ownership of the property in controversy in ejectment cases, it behooved MTC Branch 41 to examine the bases for petitioners' claim of ownership that entailed interpretation of the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage.
However, while it quoted paragraph (c) of the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage that embodies the agreement of the parties that possession of the Gilmore property and its improvements shall remain with the vendor that was obliged to transfer possession only after the expiration of one year, 28 MTC Branch 41 apparently did not examine the terms of the deed of sale. Instead, it erroneously held that the issue of whether or not the document was in fact an equitable mortgage "should not be properly raised in this case." Had it examined the terms of the deed of sale, which, after all is considered part of the allegations of the complaint having been annexed thereto, that court would have found that, even on its face, the document was actually one of equitable mortgage and not of sale. The inferior court appears to have forgotten that all documents attached to a complaint, the due execution and genuineness of which are not denied under oath by the defendant, must be considered as part of the complaint without need of introducing evidence thereon. 29
Art. 1602 of the Civil Code provides that a contract shall be presumed to be an equitable mortgage by the presence of any of the following:
Art. 1604 of the same Code provides that the provisions of Article 1602 "shall also apply to a contract purporting to be an absolute sale." The presence of even one of the circumstances in Article 1602 is sufficient basis to declare a contract as one of equitable mortgage. 30 The explicit provision of Article 1602 that "any" of those circumstances would suffice to construe a contract of sale to be one of equitable mortgage is in consonance with the rule that the law favors the least transmission of property rights.
The Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage covering the 2,000-square-meter lot located at No. 52 Gilmore Street, New Manila, Quezon City provides as follows:
That under the agreement the private respondent as vendor shall remain in possession of the property for only one year, did not detract from the fact that possession of the property, an indicium of ownership, was retained by private respondent as the alleged vendor. That period of time may be deemed as actually the time allotted to private respondent for fulfilling its part of the agreement by paying its indebtedness to petitioners. This may be gleaned from paragraph (f) that states that "full title and possession" of the property "shall vest upon the VENDEES upon the full compliance by them with all the terms and conditions herein set forth.
Paragraph (f) of the contract also evidences the fact that the agreed "purchase price" of fourteen million pesos (P14,000,000.00) was not handed over by petitioners to private respondent upon the execution of the agreement. Only P5,400,000.00 was given by petitioners to private respondent, as the balance thereof was to be dependent upon the private respondent's satisfaction of its mortgage obligation to China Banking Corporation. Notably, the MTC found that petitioners gave private respondent the amount of P8,500,000.00 that should be paid to the bank to cover the latter's obligation, thereby leaving the amount of P100,000.00 (P5,400,000.00 + P8,500,000.00 = P13,900,000.00) of the "purchase price" still unpaid and in the hands of petitioners, the alleged "vendees."
Hence, two of the circumstances enumerated in Article 1602 are manifest in the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, namely: (a) the vendor would remain in possession of the property (no. 2), and (b) the vendees retained a part of the purchase price (no. 4). On its face, therefore, the document subject of controversy, is actually a contract of equitable mortgage.
The denomination of the contract as a deed of sale is not binding as to its nature. The decisive factor in evaluating such an agreement is the intention of the parties, as shown, not necessarily by the terminology used in the contract, but by their conduct, words, actions and deeds prior to, during and immediately after executing the agreement. 32 Private respondent's possession over the property was not denied by petitioners as in fact it was the basis for their complaint for unlawful detainer.
Neither does the issuance of a new transfer certificate of title in petitioners' favor import conclusive evidence of ownership or that the agreement between the parties was one of sale. 33 In Macapinlac v. Gutierrez Repide, this Court said:
A closer look into the allegations of the complaint would therefore show that petitioners failed to make out a case for unlawful detainer. By the allegations in the complaint, private respondent as a mortgagor had the right to posses the property. A mortgage is a real right constituted to secure an obligation upon real property or rights therein to satisfy with the proceeds of the sale thereof such obligation when the same becomes due and has not been paid or fulfilled. 35 The mortgagor generally retains possession of the mortgaged property 36 because by mortgaging a piece of property, a debtor merely subjects it to a lien but ownership thereof is not parted with. 37 In case of the debtor's nonpayment of the debt secured by the mortgage, the only right of the mortgagee is to foreclose the mortgage and have the encumbered property sold to satisfy the outstanding indebtedness. The mortgagor's default does not operate to vest in the mortgagee the ownership of the encumbered property, for any such effect is against public policy. 38 Even if the property is sold at a foreclosure sale, only upon expiration of the redemption period, without the judgment debtor having made use of his right of redemption, does ownership of the land sold become consolidated in the purchaser. 39
Petitioners' tenuous claim for possession of the Gilmore property was emasculated further by private respondent's answer to their complaint. The latter claimed ownership of the property, alleging that the agreement was one of mortgage and not of sale. Private respondent alleged therein that in March 1993 (sic), it borrowed money from petitioner Felicidad Oronce alone to redeem the subject property from China Banking Corporation. She agreed to lend it the amount on condition that the Gilmore property should be mortgaged to her to guarantee payment of the loan. However, petitioner Flaminiano took the money from petitioner Oronce and paid the mortgage obligation of private respondent to the China Banking Corporation while claiming that 50% of the amount was hers. Petitioner Flaminiano's husband, Atty. Eduardo Flaminiano, forthwith prepared the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage and, without private respondent's knowledge, had it registered for which reason a new certificate of title was issued to petitioners. In claiming that the agreement was one of mortgage, private respondent alleged in its answer, inter alia, that the actual total value of the property was thirty million pesos (P30,000,000.00); that while it had possession of the property, petitioners did not then attempt to repossess the same, notwithstanding the lapse of one year from the execution of the document; that petitioners did not pay the real estate taxes even after the transfer of title in their favor, and that petitioners did not deliver to private respondent the alleged purchase price.
Considering these claims of private respondent, MTC Branch 41 should have passed upon the issues raised on the ownership of the Gilmore property for the purpose of determining who had the right to possess the same. As it turned out, it simply accepted the allegations of petitioners without examining the supporting documents. Had it closely analyzed the documents, it would have concluded that petitioners could not have validly ousted private respondent from the property since the basis for its claim of ownership, the Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage, was actually a document evidencing an equitable mortgage. It would have accordingly dismissed the complaint for lack of cause of action.
In fine, had the MTC exercised its bounden duty to study the complaint, it would have dismissed the same for lack of cause of action upon a provisional ruling on the issue of ownership based on the allegations and annexes of the complaint. Or, exercising caution in handling the case, considering petitioners' bare allegations of ownership, it should have required the filing of an answer to the complaint and, having been alerted by the adverse claim of ownership over the same property, summarily looked into the issue of ownership over the property. As this Court declared in Hilario v. Court of Appeals:
As discussed above, even a perusal of the complaint without going over the claims of private respondent in his answer would have sufficed to arrive at a provisional determination of the issue of ownership. The importance of such provisional ruling on the issue of ownership is demanded by the fact that, in the event that the claim of the plaintiff in an ejectment case is controverted as in this case, any ruling on the right of possession would be shaky, meaningless and fraught with unsettling consequences on the property rights of the parties. After all, the right of possession must stand on a firm claim of ownership. Had the MTC made a provisional ruling on the issue of ownership, the parties would have availed of other remedies in law early on to thresh out their conflicting claims.
Private respondent's action for reformation of instrument was in fact a step in the right direction. However, its failure to pursue that action 41 did not imply that private respondent had no other remedy under the law as regards the issue of ownership over the Gilmore property. There are other legal remedies that either party could have availed of. Some of these remedies, such as an action for quieting of title, have been held to coexist with actions for unlawful detainer. 42 There is a policy against multiplicity of suits but under the circumstances, only the institution of proper proceedings could settle the controversy between the parties in a definitive manner.
Hence, although the Court of Appeals resolved the appeal under the misconception that the action for reformation of instrument was still viable, it correctly held that the controversy between the parties was beyond the ordinary issues in an ejectment case. Because of the opposing claims of the parties as to the true agreement between them, the issue of ownership was in a sense a prejudicial question that needed determination before the ejectment case should have been filed. To reiterate, a decision reached in the ejectment case in favor of any of the parties would have nonetheless spawned litigation on the issue of ownership. At any rate, proceedings would have been facilitated had the inferior courts made even a provisional ruling on such issue.
The contentious circumstances surrounding the case were demonstrated by an occurrence during the pendency of this petition that cries out for the resolution of the issue of ownership over the Gilmore property.
After the parties had filed their respective memoranda before this Court, private respondent filed an urgent motion to cite petitioner Rosita L. Flaminiano and her husband, Atty. Eduardo B. Flaminiano, in contempt of court. 43 The motion was founded on an affidavit of Dr. Tadeo Gonzales who resided at the contested property, deriving his right to do so from private respondent corporation that is owned by his family. Gonzales alleged that on September 20, 1997, petitioner Flaminiano and her husband entered the property through craftiness and intimidation. At around 5:30 p.m. on that day, two (2) men knocked at the gate. When the houseboy, Luis R. Fernandez, opened the gate for pedestrians tentatively, the two men told him that they would like to visit Gonzales' mother who was ailing.
Once inside, the two men identified themselves as policemen and opened the gate for twenty (20) men, two (2) trucks and an L-300 van to enter. When Gonzales went outside the house, he saw thirty (30) to forty (40) men and two (2) trucks entering the driveway. The person he asked regarding the presence of those people inside the property turned out to be the brother of petitioner Flaminiano. That person said, "Kami ang may-ari dito. Matagal na kaming nagtitiis, kayo ang dapat sa labas." After Gonzales had told him that the property was still under litigation before this Court, the man said, "Walang Supreme Court - Supreme Court." When Gonzales asked petitioner Flaminiano, who was inside the premises, to order the people to leave, she said, "Papapasukin namin ito dahil sa amin ito. Maglalagay ako ng tao diyan sa loob, sa harap, sa likod. Wala ng pakiusap." When a power generator was brought inside the property and Gonzales pleaded that it be taken out because the noise it would create would disturb his ailing mother, Emiliana Gonzales, petitioner Flaminiano said, "Walang awa-awa sa akin." Atty. Flaminiano butted in and, referring to Gonzales' mother, said, "Ialis mo na, matanda na pala." When Gonzales prevented the switching on of some lights in the house due to faulty wiring, Atty. Flaminiano suggested, "Bakit hindi mo ipasunog ito? May insurance pa kayo 5 million, madali lang 'yan. Short circuit." Since the Flaminianos and their crew were not about to leave the property, Gonzales called up his brother, Atty. Antonio Gonzales, and informed him of what happened. However, instead of confining themselves in the driveway, the Flaminianos and their group entered the terrace, bringing in food.
Gonzales was all the while concerned about his 81-year-old mother who had just been discharged from the hospital. However, the Flaminianos stayed until the next day, September 22, 1997, using the kitchen, furniture and other fixtures in the house. Gonzales took pictures of Flaminiano and his companions. When Atty. Flaminiano arrived, he confronted Gonzales and told him, "Hindi ako natatakot kahit kanino ka pa mag-report, kahit pa sa Supreme Court, gusto ko nga mag-reklamo kayo para matapos ang kaso. Sa September 25, may shooting dito, gagawin ko ang gusto ko dito." 44
The affidavits of Renato C. Mola, driver of Atty. Antonio Gonzales, and that of Luis R. Fernandez, houseboy of Dr. Tadeo Gonzales, as well as the xerox copy of the sworn statement dated September 21, 1997 of Pria B. Gonzales before the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame where she filed a complaint against Atty. Flaminiano for the illegal entry into teir house, support the affidavit of Dr. Gonzales.
In its supplemental motion 45 to cite petitioner Flaminiano and her husband, Atty. Flaminiano, in contempt of court, private respondent alleged that the Flaminianos committed additional contumacious acts in preventing another member of the family, Mrs. Cipriana Gonzales, from entering the property. In her affidavit, Mrs. Gonzales said that the Flaminianos and their people used "the whole house, except the bedrooms, for their filming activities." 46
Thereafter, private respondent filed an urgent motion for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction with this Court to enjoin petitioners, Atty. Flaminiano and their representatives and agents from preventing private respondent, its agents and representatives from entering the property and to cease and desist from occupying the property or from committing further acts of dispossession of the property. 47 On October 13, 1997, this Court issued the temporary restraining order prayed for. 48 In the motion it filed on October 21, 1997, 49 private respondent informed the Court that the TRO could not be served upon petitioners immediately because, Atty. Flaminiano, their counsel of record, had changed address without informing the Court. It was served upon said counsel only on October 15, 1997. However, instead of complying with this Court's order, petitioners continued occupying the property. On October 16, 1997, after receiving a copy of the TRO, petitioners put up a huge billboard in front of the property stating that it is the national headquarters of the People's Alliance for National Reconciliation and Unity for Peace and Progress (PANRUPP).
In their comment on the motion for contempt, petitioners noticeably did not controvert the facts set forth by private respondent in said motion. Instead, it reasserted its claim of ownership over the property as evidenced by TCT No. 67990. They alleged that they had mortgaged the property to the Far East Bank and Trust Company in the amount of thirty million pesos (P30,000,000.00) for which they are paying a monthly interest of around P675,000.00 "without enjoying the material possession of the subject property which has been unlawfully and unjustly detained by private respondent for the last four (4) years as it was used as the residence of the members of the family of its President ANTONIO B. GONZALES without the said private respondent paying rentals thereon for the period from January 1995 up to October 5, 1997 when the said property was voluntarily vacated by the members of the President (sic) of respondent corporation, ANTONIO B. GONZALES, who has since then been a fugitive from justice having been convicted by final judgment of the crime of estafa through falsification of public document and has succeeded in evading his sentence."
They averred that Tadeo Gonzales erroneously claimed that the rights of ownership and possession over the property are still under litigation because "the issue of ownership is no longer involved in this litigation when the complaint for reformation of instrument with annulment of sale and title filed by private respondent" was dismissed with finality by reason of non-suit. Hence, they claimed that they "now stand to be the unquestionable registered and lawful owners of the property subject of controversy" and that the July 24, 1996 Decision of the Court of Appeals "has already lost its virtuality and legal efficacy with the occurrence of a 'supervening event' which is a superior cause superseding the basis of the judgment" in CA-G.R. No. 39227 of respondent court.
They informed the Court that they are now leasing the property to PANRUPP from October 1, 1997 to September 30, 1998. They alleged, however, that the property is in a "deplorable state of decay and deterioration" that they saw the need "to act swiftly and decisively to prevent further destruction" of the property where they "invested millions of pesos of their life-time savings to acquire the same." Hence, they sought the assistance of barangay officials in Barangay Mariana, New Manila who helped them effect "the peaceful entry into the property of the petitioners without the use of strategy, force and intimidation contrary to what was alleged" in the motion for contempt. They "peacefully took over" possession of the property on September 20, 1997 but allowed the immediate members of the family of private respondent's president to stay on. The family finally agreed to vacate the premises on October 5, 1997 "upon the offer of the petitioners to shoulder partially the expenses for the hospitalization of the ailing mother at the St. Luke General Hospital where she was brought by an ambulance accompanied by a doctor" at petitioners' expense.
Petitioners questioned the issuance by this Court of the TRO on October 13, 1997, asserting that when it was issued, there were "no more acts to restrain the illegal occupants of the subject property (as they) had already peacefully vacated the premises on October 5, 1997 or more than a week after the said TRO was issued by the Third Division" of this Court. They prayed that the motion for contempt be denied for lack of merit and that the TRO issued be lifted and set aside "for the act or acts sought to be restrained have already been done and have become a fait accompli before the issuance of the TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER on October 13, 1997." 50
As earlier discussed, petitioners' claim that the dismissal of the action for reformation of instrument for non-suit had written finis to the issue of ownership over the Gilmore property is totally unfounded in law. Petitioners should be reminded that the instant petition stemmed from an unlawful detainer case, the issue of which is merely possession of the property in question. The issue of ownership has not been definitively resolved for the provisional determination of that issue that should have been done by the MTC at the earliest possible time, would only be for the purpose of determining who has the superior right to possess the property. Inasmuch as this Court has resolved that the rightful possessor should have been private respondent and its representatives and agents, the TRO issued by this Court on October 13, 1997 should not be lifted. That the TRO was issued days before private respondent left the property is immaterial. What is in question here is lawful possession of the property, not possession on the basis of self-proclaimed ownership of the property. For their part, petitioners should cease and desist from further exercising possession of the same property which possession, in the first place, does not legally belong to them.
The conduct of petitioner Flaminiano in taking possession over the property as alleged by private respondent through Tadeo Gonzales is deplorably high-handed. On an erroneous assumption that she had been legally vested with ownership of the properly, she took steps prior to the present proceedings by illegally taking control and possession of the same property in litigation. Her act of entering the property in defiance of the writ of preliminary injunction issued by the Court of Appeals constituted indirect contempt under Section 3, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court that should be dealt with accordingly.
Be that as it may, what is disturbing to the Court is the conduct of her husband, Eduardo Flaminiano, a lawyer 51 whose actuations as an officer of the court should be beyond reproach. His contumacious acts of entering the Gilmore property without the consent of its occupants and in contravention of the existing writ or preliminary injunction issued by the Court of Appeals and making utterances showing disrespect for the law and this Court, are certainly unbecoming of a member of the Philippine Bar. To be sure, he asserted in his comment on the motion for contempt that petitioners "peacefully" took over the property. Nonetheless, such "peaceful" take-over cannot justify defiance of the writ of preliminary injunction that he knew was still in force. Notably, he did not comment on nor categorically deny that he committed the contumacious acts alleged by private respondent. Through his acts, Atty. Flaminiano has flouted his duties as a member of the legal profession. Under the Code of Professional Responsibility, he is prohibited from counseling or abetting "activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system." 52
WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review on certiorari is hereby DENIED and the questioned Decision of the Court of Appeals AFFIRMED without prejudice to the filing by either party of an action regarding the ownership of the property involved. The temporary restraining order issued on October 13, 1997 is hereby made permanent. Petitioners and their agents are directed to turn over possession of the property to private respondent.
Petitioner Rosita Flaminiano is hereby held guilty of contempt of court for disobeying the writ of injunction issued by the Court of Appeals and accordingly fined P20,000.00 therefor. Her counsel and husband, Atty. Eduardo B. Flaminiano, is ordered to pay a fine of P25,000.00 for committing contumacious acts unbecoming of a member of the Philippine Bar with a stern warning that a repetition of the same acts shall be dealt with more severely. Let a copy of this Decision be attached to his record at the Office of the Bar Confidant.
This Decision is immediately executory. Costs against petitioners.
Narvasa, C.J., Kapunan and Purisima, JJ., concur.
Pardo, J., is on leave.
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