[G.R. No. 147390.June 18, 2001]
FELISA P. SORIANO et al. vs. HEIRS OF
hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 18 2001.
G.R. No. 147390(Felisa
P. Soriano, Leonisa Perez, and Ananias Perez vs. Nurneriano Perez, Cesar Perez,
Gil Perez, collectively known as the Heirs of Agustin Soliman.)
Deogracias Perez was, in
his lifetime, the owner of several parcels of land, identified as Lot Nos.
3023, 3032, 3033, 3033-A and 3034, in Sitio Taghangin, Maybancal, Morong, Rizal.
Petitioners claim that Deogracias Perez had only two sons, namely, Dominador
and Carmelo, upon whose death, they (petitioners) became the owners of lands in
question. Petitioners allege that during the lifetime of Deogracias, Francisca
Soliman stayed in the house of Deogracias and was treated as a member of his
family; that Francisca had a child, Agustin Soliman; that sometime between 1928
and 1929, Deogracias Perez asked Agustin Soliman to represent him during the
cadastral survey of lands conducted in Morong, Rizal; that representing himself
to be a son of Deogracias Perez and using the name Agustin Perez, Agustin
Soliman succeeded in having Lot No. 3023 registered in his assumed name; that
it was only in 1993, when Lot No. 3023 was offered for sale, that petitioners
learned of this fact; that by reason thereof, one of the herein petitioners,
Felisa P. Soriano, filed a complaint before the Department of Agrarian Reform
(DAR); and that on December 14, 1993, respondents, who are the heirs of Agustin
Perez, entered into a compromise agreement with the herein petitioners in which
the former acknowledged the ownership and possession of the latter. It is
further alleged that on May 31, 1994, petitioners filed a protest with the
Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which, on July 17, 1995, declared
petitioners' predecessor-in-interest, Carmelo Perez, as the true and actual
owner of the lot in question.
It appears that while the
case was thus pending before the DENR, respondents filed a complaint for
"quieting of title with damages" against petitioners in the Regional Trial
Court. The case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, but, on March 23, 1995,
respondents refiled the case in the Municipal Trial Court of Morong, Rizal.
Respondents alleged that pursuant to a certification of the Bureau of Forest
Development, Lot No. 3023 was, prior to its occupation by Agustin Perez in
1928, a public land; that Agustin Perez had paid the realty tax on the land;
that petitioners, claiming to be the owner of the land, filed a complaint
before the Office of the Barangay Captain of Barangay San Juan, Morong, Rizal,
but the parties failed to settle their dispute; and that petitioners also filed
a protest in the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of
the DENR in Antipolo, Rizal, which was pending until then.
Petitioners moved to
dismiss the case on the ground that respondents failed to comply with the rule
on certification of non-forum shopping and requirement of barangay
conciliation. For this reason, on September 22, 1995, the MTC suspended the
proceedings and referred the case to the Lupon Tagapamayapa for conciliation.
On May 20, 1998, the MTC
rendered judgment for respondents. The dispositive portion of its decision
considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring:
[respondents herein] as the true, lawful, and exclusive owners of the land
denominated as Lot No. 3023 and PSL-16 of the Morong Cadastral with an area of
3,571 sq. meters situated in Hardin, San Juan, Morong, Rizal;
(b) As a consequence, the
Court hereby declare the claim of defendants and intervenors over the subject
lot as null and void and without force and effect;
(c) Ordering defendants
and intervenors to pay plaintiffs equally the sum:
attorney's fees and costs of suits.
Petitioners filed a motion
for new trial and/or reconsideration, but their motion was denied. They
appealed to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, but they again lost as the RIG
affirmed the decision and the order of the MTC. Petitioners suffered further
setbacks as the Court of Appeals dismissed their petition for review and later
denied their motion for reconsideration.
Hence, this petition for
review on certiorari.
First, petitioners contend
that the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the jurisdiction of the MTC
despite the fact that under the law the DENR has exclusive jurisdiction over
cases concerning the disposition of alienable and disposable lands of the
public domain. Petitioners claim that the filing of respondents' complaint
before the regular courts amounted to forum-shopping which should not have been
This contention has no
merit. The MTC had undoubted jurisdiction over respondents' action for quieting
of title. There is forum-shopping when a party against whom an adverse judgment
has been rendered in one forum seeks another, and possibly favorable, opinion in
another forum, other than by appeal or by special civil action of certiorari.
There is also forum-shopping when two or more actions or proceedings, grounded
on the same cause, are instituted on the expectation that one or the other
court would make a favorable disposition (See
PNB-Republic Bank v. Court of Appeals, 314 SCRA 328 (1999); Marina
Properties Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 294 SCRA 273 (1998)). In this case,
as the Court of Appeals observed, the complaint filed by respondents before the
MTC is in the nature of a possessory action while the protest filed by
petitioners in the DENR involved the determination of the disposition and
alienation of public lands.
Second, petitioners claim
the proceedings before the MTC should be annulled on the ground of fraud, by
reason of which they were deprived of effective legal representation through
the negligence of their two former counsels.
Petitioners anchor their
argument by citing the following instances, to wit: their former counsel, Atty.
Jose F. Tiburcio, neither presented evidence in their behalf nor cross-examined
any of the witnesses presented by the respondents; that during hearings Atty.
Tiburcio would leave the courtroom early; that Atty. Reynaldo Soriano, the
counsel who replaced Atty. Tiburcio, refused to discuss the case with them;
that during the almost one and a half year that Atty. Soriano represented the
petitioners, only two pleadings were filed, an urgent ex parte motion
for extension of time to file comments on the case and another urgent ex
parte motion to file comments on the case and reset case; that though they
were given extensions for filing comment, none was filed within the extended
period; that Atty. Soriano failed to attend some scheduled hearings, the last
of which was that set on February 24, 1997; and that petitioners were not
informed of the decision of the MTC which they came to know only when they were
served a copy of the said decision.
Petitioners' claim has no
basis. A final decision may be annulled on the ground that the judgment is void
for want of jurisdiction or lack of due process of law or that it has been
obtained by fraud. The fraud must be extrinsic or collateral in character, as a
result of which the losing party was not heard. It must be distinguished from
intrinsic fraud which refers to acts of a party at a trial which prevented a
fair and just determination of the case and which could have been litigated and
determined at the trial or adjudication of the case (Salonga v. Court of
Appeals, 269 SCRA 534 (1997) citing Santos
v. Court of Appeals, 224 SCRA 673 (1993)). In this case, the enumerated
negligent acts of petitioners' two former counsels were not due to some
fraudulent acts perpetrated by respondents outside the trial of the case.
Neither do the alleged procedural
lapses of petitioners' counsel warrant an annulment of the judgment of the MTC.
It is well-settled that the negligence of counsel binds the client. The only
exceptions are those cases in which a party is deprived of due process of law
because of the reckless or gross negligence of counsel. This is not the case
here. The essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity
to be heard and submit any evidence one may
have in support of one's defense. Where opportunity to be heard, either
through oral arguments or pleadings, is accorded, there is no denial of due
process (Gacutana-Fraile v. Domingo, G.R. No. 138518, December 15, 2000).
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of showing that the
Court of Appeals committed any reversible error.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd.) TOMASITA B. MAGAY-DRIS
Clerk of Court