ALONZO Q. ANCHETA, G.R. No. 139868
PANGANIBAN, C.J. (Chairperson)
- versus - *YNARES-SANTIAGO,
CALLEJO, SR., and
Respondent. June 8, 2006
x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x
D E C I S I O N
Spouses Audrey O’Neill (Audrey) and W. Richard Guersey (Richard) were American citizens who have resided in the Philippines for 30 years. They have an adopted daughter, Kyle Guersey Hill (Kyle). On July 29, 1979, Audrey died, leaving a will. In it, she bequeathed her entire estate to Richard, who was also designated as executor. The will was admitted to probate before the Orphan’s Court of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A, which named James N. Phillips as executor due to Richard’s renunciation of his appointment. The court also named Atty. Alonzo Q. Ancheta (petitioner) of the Quasha Asperilla Ancheta Pena & Nolasco Law Offices as ancillary administrator.
In 1981, Richard married Candelaria Guersey-Dalaygon (respondent) with whom he has two children, namely, Kimberly and Kevin.
On October 12, 1982, Audrey’s will was also admitted to probate by the then Court of First Instance of Rizal, Branch 25, Seventh Judicial District, Pasig, in Special Proceeding No. 9625. As administrator of Audrey’s estate in the Philippines, petitioner filed an inventory and appraisal of the following properties: (1) Audrey’s conjugal share in real estate with improvements located at 28 Pili Avenue, Forbes Park, Makati, Metro Manila, valued at
P764,865.00 (Makati property); (2) a current account in Audrey’s name with a cash balance of P12,417.97; and (3) 64,444 shares of stock in A/G Interiors, Inc. worth P64,444.00.
On July 20, 1984, Richard died, leaving a will, wherein he bequeathed his entire estate to respondent, save for his rights and interests over the A/G Interiors, Inc. shares, which he left to Kyle. The will was also admitted to probate by the Orphan’s Court of Ann Arundel, Maryland, U.S.A, and James N. Phillips was likewise appointed as executor, who in turn, designated Atty. William Quasha or any member of the Quasha Asperilla Ancheta Pena & Nolasco Law Offices, as ancillary administrator.
Richard’s will was then submitted for probate before the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 138, docketed as Special Proceeding No. M-888. Atty. Quasha was appointed as ancillary administrator on July 24, 1986.
On October 19, 1987, petitioner filed in Special Proceeding No. 9625, a motion to declare Richard and Kyle as heirs of Audrey. Petitioner also filed on October 23, 1987, a project of partition of Audrey’s estate, with Richard being apportioned the ¾ undivided interest in the Makati property, 48.333 shares in A/G Interiors, Inc., and
P9,313.48 from the Citibank current account; and Kyle, the ¼ undivided interest in the Makati property, 16,111 shares in A/G Interiors, Inc., and P3,104.49 in cash.
The motion and project of partition was granted and approved by the trial court in its Order dated February 12, 1988. The trial court also issued an Order on April 7, 1988, directing the Register of Deeds of Makati to cancel TCT No. 69792 in the name of Richard and to issue a new title in the joint names of the Estate of W. Richard Guersey (¾ undivided interest) and Kyle (¼ undivided interest); directing the Secretary of A/G Interiors, Inc. to transfer 48.333 shares to the Estate of W. Richard Guersey and 16.111 shares to Kyle; and directing the Citibank to release the amount of
P12,417.97 to the ancillary administrator for distribution to the heirs.
Meanwhile, the ancillary administrator in Special Proceeding No. M-888 also filed a project of partition wherein 2/5 of Richard’s ¾ undivided interest in the Makati property was allocated to respondent, while 3/5 thereof were allocated to Richard’s three children. This was opposed by respondent on the ground that under the law of the State of Maryland, “a legacy passes to the legatee the entire interest of the testator in the property subject of the legacy.” Since Richard left his entire estate to respondent, except for his rights and interests over the A/G Interiors, Inc, shares, then his entire ¾ undivided interest in the Makati property should be given to respondent.
The trial court found merit in respondent’s opposition, and in its Order dated December 6, 1991, disapproved the project of partition insofar as it affects the Makati property. The trial court also adjudicated Richard’s entire ¾ undivided interest in the Makati property to respondent.
On October 20, 1993, respondent filed with the Court of Appeals (CA) an amended complaint for the annulment of the trial court’s Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988, issued in Special Proceeding No. 9625. Respondent contended that petitioner willfully breached his fiduciary duty when he disregarded the laws of the State of Maryland on the distribution of Audrey’s estate in accordance with her will. Respondent argued that since Audrey devised her entire estate to Richard, then the Makati property should be wholly adjudicated to him, and not merely ¾ thereof, and since Richard left his entire estate, except for his rights and interests over the A/G Interiors, Inc., to respondent, then the entire Makati property should now pertain to respondent.
Petitioner filed his Answer denying respondent’s allegations. Petitioner contended that he acted in good faith in submitting the project of partition before the trial court in Special Proceeding No. 9625, as he had no knowledge of the State of Maryland’s laws on testate and intestate succession. Petitioner alleged that he believed that it is to the “best interests of the surviving children that Philippine law be applied as they would receive their just shares.” Petitioner also alleged that the orders sought to be annulled are already final and executory, and cannot be set aside.
On March 18, 1999, the CA rendered the assailed Decision annulling the trial court’s Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988, in Special Proceeding No. 9625. The dispositive portion of the assailed Decision provides:
WHEREFORE, the assailed Orders of February 12, 1998 and April 7, 1988 are hereby ANNULLED and, in lieu thereof, a new one is entered ordering:
(a) The adjudication of the entire estate of Audrey O’Neill Guersey in favor of the estate of W. Richard Guersey; and
(b) The cancellation of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 15583 of the Makati City Registry and the issuance of a new title in the name of the estate of W. Richard Guersey.
Hence, the herein petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court alleging that the CA gravely erred in not holding that:
A) THE ORDERS OF 12 FEBRUARY 1988 AND 07 APRIL 1988 IN SPECIAL PROCEEDINGS NO. 9625 “IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION FOR PROBATE OF THE WILL OF THE DECEASED AUDREY GUERSEY, ALONZO Q. ANCHETA, ANCILLARY ADMINISTRATOR”, ARE VALID AND BINDING AND HAVE LONG BECOME FINAL AND HAVE BEEN FULLY IMPLEMENTED AND EXECUTED AND CAN NO LONGER BE ANNULLED.
B) THE ANCILLARY ADMINISTRATOR HAVING ACTED IN GOOD FAITH, DID NOT COMMIT FRAUD, EITHER EXTRINSIC OR INTRINSIC, IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTIES AS ANCILLARY ADMINISTRATOR OF AUDREY O’NEIL GUERSEY’S ESTATE IN THE PHILIPPINES, AND THAT NO FRAUD, EITHER EXTRINSIC OR INTRINSIC, WAS EMPLOYED BY [HIM] IN PROCURING SAID ORDERS.
Petitioner reiterates his arguments before the CA that the Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988 can no longer be annulled because it is a final judgment, which is “conclusive upon the administration as to all matters involved in such judgment or order, and will determine for all time and in all courts, as far as the parties to the proceedings are concerned, all matters therein determined,” and the same has already been executed.
Petitioner also contends that that he acted in good faith in performing his duties as an ancillary administrator. He maintains that at the time of the filing of the project of partition, he was not aware of the relevant laws of the State of Maryland, such that the partition was made in accordance with Philippine laws. Petitioner also imputes knowledge on the part of respondent with regard to the terms of Aubrey’s will, stating that as early as 1984, he already apprised respondent of the contents of the will and how the estate will be divided.
Respondent argues that petitioner’s breach of his fiduciary duty as ancillary administrator of Aubrey’s estate amounted to extrinsic fraud. According to respondent, petitioner was duty-bound to follow the express terms of Aubrey’s will, and his denial of knowledge of the laws of Maryland cannot stand because petitioner is a senior partner in a prestigious law firm and it was his duty to know the relevant laws.
Respondent also states that she was not able to file any opposition to the project of partition because she was not a party thereto and she learned of the provision of Aubrey’s will bequeathing entirely her estate to Richard only after Atty. Ancheta filed a project of partition in Special Proceeding No. M-888 for the settlement of Richard’s estate.
A decree of distribution of the estate of a deceased person vests the title to the land of the estate in the distributees, which, if erroneous may be corrected by a timely appeal. Once it becomes final, its binding effect is like any other judgment in rem. However, in exceptional cases, a final decree of distribution of the estate may be set aside for lack of jurisdiction or fraud. Further, in Ramon v. Ortuzar, the Court ruled that a party interested in a probate proceeding may have a final liquidation set aside when he is left out by reason of circumstances beyond his control or through mistake or inadvertence not imputable to negligence.
The petition for annulment was filed before the CA on October 20, 1993, before the issuance of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure; hence, the applicable law is Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 (B.P. 129) or the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980. An annulment of judgment filed under B.P. 129 may be based on the ground that a judgment is void for want of jurisdiction or that the judgment was obtained by extrinsic fraud. For fraud to become a basis for annulment of judgment, it has to be extrinsic or actual, and must be brought within four years from the discovery of the fraud.
In the present case, respondent alleged extrinsic fraud as basis for the annulment of the RTC Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988. The CA found merit in respondent’s cause and found that petitioner’s failure to follow the terms of Audrey’s will, despite the latter’s declaration of good faith, amounted to extrinsic fraud. The CA ruled that under Article 16 of the Civil Code, it is the national law of the decedent that is applicable, hence, petitioner should have distributed Aubrey’s estate in accordance with the terms of her will. The CA also found that petitioner was prompted to distribute Audrey’s estate in accordance with Philippine laws in order to equally benefit Audrey and Richard Guersey’s adopted daughter, Kyle Guersey Hill.
Petitioner contends that respondent’s cause of action had already prescribed because as early as 1984, respondent was already well aware of the terms of Audrey’s will, and the complaint was filed only in 1993. Respondent, on the other hand, justified her lack of immediate action by saying that she had no opportunity to question petitioner’s acts since she was not a party to Special Proceeding No. 9625, and it was only after Atty. Ancheta filed the project of partition in Special Proceeding No. M-888, reducing her inheritance in the estate of Richard that she was prompted to seek another counsel to protect her interest.
It should be pointed out that the prescriptive period for annulment of judgment based on extrinsic fraud commences to run from the discovery of the fraud or fraudulent act/s. Respondent’s knowledge of the terms of Audrey’s will is immaterial in this case since it is not the fraud complained of. Rather, it is petitioner’s failure to introduce in evidence the pertinent law of the State of Maryland that is the fraudulent act, or in this case, omission, alleged to have been committed against respondent, and therefore, the four-year period should be counted from the time of respondent’s discovery thereof.
Records bear the fact that the filing of the project of partition of Richard’s estate, the opposition thereto, and the order of the trial court disallowing the project of partition in Special Proceeding No. M-888 were all done in 1991. Respondent cannot be faulted for letting the assailed orders to lapse into finality since it was only through Special Proceeding No. M-888 that she came to comprehend the ramifications of petitioner’s acts. Obviously, respondent had no other recourse under the circumstances but to file the annulment case. Since the action for annulment was filed in 1993, clearly, the same has not yet prescribed.
Fraud takes on different shapes and faces. In Cosmic Lumber Corporation v. Court of Appeals, the Court stated that “man in his ingenuity and fertile imagination will always contrive new schemes to fool the unwary.”
There is extrinsic fraud within the meaning of Sec. 9 par. (2), of B.P. Blg. 129, where it is one the effect of which prevents a party from hearing a trial, or real contest, or from presenting all of his case to the court, or where it operates upon matters, not pertaining to the judgment itself, but to the manner in which it was procured so that there is not a fair submission of the controversy. In other words, extrinsic fraud refers to any fraudulent act of the prevailing party in the litigation which is committed outside of the trial of the case, whereby the defeated party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his side of the case by fraud or deception practiced on him by his opponent. Fraud is extrinsic where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practiced on him by his opponent, as by keeping him away from court, a false promise of a compromise; or where the defendant never had any knowledge of the suit, being kept in ignorance by the acts of the plaintiff; or where an attorney fraudulently or without authority connives at his defeat; these and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment and open the case for a new and fair hearing.
Petitioner is the ancillary administrator of Audrey’s estate. As such, he occupies a position of the highest trust and confidence, and he is required to exercise reasonable diligence and act in entire good faith in the performance of that trust. Although he is not a guarantor or insurer of the safety of the estate nor is he expected to be infallible, yet the same degree of prudence, care and judgment which a person of a fair average capacity and ability exercises in similar transactions of his own, serves as the standard by which his conduct is to be judged.
Petitioner’s failure to proficiently manage the distribution of Audrey’s estate according to the terms of her will and as dictated by the applicable law amounted to extrinsic fraud. Hence the CA Decision annulling the RTC Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988, must be upheld.
It is undisputed that Audrey Guersey was an American citizen domiciled in Maryland, U.S.A. During the reprobate of her will in Special Proceeding No. 9625, it was shown, among others, that at the time of Audrey’s death, she was residing in the Philippines but is domiciled in Maryland, U.S.A.; her Last Will and Testament dated August 18, 1972 was executed and probated before the Orphan’s Court in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., which was duly authenticated and certified by the Register of Wills of Baltimore City and attested by the Chief Judge of said court; the will was admitted by the Orphan’s Court of Baltimore City on September 7, 1979; and the will was authenticated by the Secretary of State of Maryland and the Vice Consul of the Philippine Embassy.
Being a foreign national, the intrinsic validity of Audrey’s will, especially with regard as to who are her heirs, is governed by her national law, i.e., the law of the State of Maryland, as provided in Article 16 of the Civil Code, to wit:
Art. 16. Real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the country where it is situated.
However, intestate and testamentary succession, both with respect to the order of succession and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may be the nature of the property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found. (Emphasis supplied)
Article 1039 of the Civil Code further provides that “capacity to succeed is governed by the law of the nation of the decedent.”
As a corollary rule, Section 4, Rule 77 of the Rules of Court on Allowance of Will Proved Outside the Philippines and Administration of Estate Thereunder, states:
SEC. 4. Estate, how administered.—When a will is thus allowed, the court shall grant letters testamentary, or letters of administration with the will annexed, and such letters testamentary or of administration, shall extend to all the estate of the testator in the Philippines. Such estate, after the payment of just debts and expenses of administration, shall be disposed of according to such will, so far as such will may operate upon it; and the residue, if any, shall be disposed of as is provided by law in cases of estates in the Philippines belonging to persons who are inhabitants of another state or country. (Emphasis supplied)
While foreign laws do not prove themselves in our jurisdiction and our courts are not authorized to take judicial notice of them; however, petitioner, as ancillary administrator of Audrey’s estate, was duty-bound to introduce in evidence the pertinent law of the State of Maryland.
Petitioner admitted that he failed to introduce in evidence the law of the State of Maryland on Estates and Trusts, and merely relied on the presumption that such law is the same as the Philippine law on wills and succession. Thus, the trial court peremptorily applied Philippine laws and totally disregarded the terms of Audrey’s will. The obvious result was that there was no fair submission of the case before the trial court or a judicious appreciation of the evidence presented.
Petitioner insists that his application of Philippine laws was made in good faith. The Court cannot accept petitioner’s protestation. How can petitioner honestly presume that Philippine laws apply when as early as the reprobate of Audrey’s will before the trial court in 1982, it was already brought to fore that Audrey was a U.S. citizen, domiciled in the State of Maryland. As asserted by respondent, petitioner is a senior partner in a prestigious law firm, with a “big legal staff and a large library.” He had all the legal resources to determine the applicable law. It was incumbent upon him to exercise his functions as ancillary administrator with reasonable diligence, and to discharge the trust reposed on him faithfully. Unfortunately, petitioner failed to perform his fiduciary duties.
Moreover, whether his omission was intentional or not, the fact remains that the trial court failed to consider said law when it issued the assailed RTC Orders dated February 12, 1988 and April 7, 1988, declaring Richard and Kyle as Audrey’s heirs, and distributing Audrey’s estate according to the project of partition submitted by petitioner. This eventually prejudiced respondent and deprived her of her full successional right to the Makati property.
In GSIS v. Bengson Commercial Bldgs., Inc., the Court held that when the rule that the negligence or mistake of counsel binds the client deserts its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes a great hindrance and chief enemy, its rigors must be relaxed to admit exceptions thereto and to prevent a miscarriage of justice, and the court has the power to except a particular case from the operation of the rule whenever the purposes of justice require it.
The CA aptly noted that petitioner was remiss in his responsibilities as ancillary administrator of Audrey’s estate. The CA likewise observed that the distribution made by petitioner was prompted by his concern over Kyle, whom petitioner believed should equally benefit from the Makati property. The CA correctly stated, which the Court adopts, thus:
In claiming good faith in the performance of his duties and responsibilities, defendant Alonzo H. Ancheta invokes the principle which presumes the law of the forum to be the same as the foreign law (Beam vs. Yatco, 82 Phil. 30, 38) in the absence of evidence adduced to prove the latter law (Slade Perkins vs. Perkins, 57 Phil. 205, 210). In defending his actions in the light of the foregoing principle, however, it appears that the defendant lost sight of the fact that his primary responsibility as ancillary administrator was to distribute the subject estate in accordance with the will of Audrey O’Neill Guersey. Considering the principle established under Article 16 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, as well as the citizenship and the avowed domicile of the decedent, it goes without saying that the defendant was also duty-bound to prove the pertinent laws of Maryland on the matter.
The record reveals, however, that no clear effort was made to prove the national law of Audrey O’Neill Guersey during the proceedings before the court a quo. While there is claim of good faith in distributing the subject estate in accordance with the Philippine laws, the defendant appears to put his actuations in a different light as indicated in a portion of his direct examination, to wit:
x x x
It would seem, therefore, that the eventual distribution of the estate of Audrey O’Neill Guersey was prompted by defendant Alonzo H. Ancheta’s concern that the subject realty equally benefit the plaintiff’s adopted daughter Kyle Guersey.
Well-intentioned though it may be, defendant Alonzo H. Ancheta’s action appears to have breached his duties and responsibilities as ancillary administrator of the subject estate. While such breach of duty admittedly cannot be considered extrinsic fraud under ordinary circumstances, the fiduciary nature of the said defendant’s position, as well as the resultant frustration of the decedent’s last will, combine to create a circumstance that is tantamount to extrinsic fraud. Defendant Alonzo H. Ancheta’s omission to prove the national laws of the decedent and to follow the latter’s last will, in sum, resulted in the procurement of the subject orders without a fair submission of the real issues involved in the case. (Emphasis supplied)
This is not a simple case of error of judgment or grave abuse of discretion, but a total disregard of the law as a result of petitioner’s abject failure to discharge his fiduciary duties. It does not rest upon petitioner’s pleasure as to which law should be made applicable under the circumstances. His onus is clear. Respondent was thus excluded from enjoying full rights to the Makati property through no fault or negligence of her own, as petitioner’s omission was beyond her control. She was in no position to analyze the legal implications of petitioner’s omission and it was belatedly that she realized the adverse consequence of the same. The end result was a miscarriage of justice. In cases like this, the courts have the legal and moral duty to provide judicial aid to parties who are deprived of their rights.
The trial court in its Order dated December 6, 1991 in Special Proceeding No. M-888 noted the law of the State of Maryland on Estates and Trusts, as follows:
Under Section 1-301, Title 3, Sub-Title 3 of the Annotated Code of the Public General Laws of Maryland on Estates and Trusts, “all property of a decedent shall be subject to the estate of decedents law, and upon his death shall pass directly to the personal representative, who shall hold the legal title for administration and distribution,” while Section 4-408 expressly provides that “unless a contrary intent is expressly indicated in the will, a legacy passes to the legatee the entire interest of the testator in the property which is the subject of the legacy”. Section 7-101, Title 7, Sub-Title 1, on the other hand, declares that “a personal representative is a fiduciary” and as such he is “under the general duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of the will and the estate of decedents law as expeditiously and with as little sacrifice of value as is reasonable under the circumstances”.
In her will, Audrey devised to Richard her entire estate, consisting of the following: (1) Audrey’s conjugal share in the Makati property; (2) the cash amount of
P12,417.97; and (3) 64,444 shares of stock in A/G Interiors, Inc. worth P64,444.00. All these properties passed on to Richard upon Audrey’s death. Meanwhile, Richard, in his will, bequeathed his entire estate to respondent, except for his rights and interests over the A/G Interiors, Inc. shares, which he left to Kyle. When Richard subsequently died, the entire Makati property should have then passed on to respondent. This, of course, assumes the proposition that the law of the State of Maryland which allows “a legacy to pass to the legatee the entire estate of the testator in the property which is the subject of the legacy,” was sufficiently proven in Special Proceeding No. 9625. Nevertheless, the Court may take judicial notice thereof in view of the ruling in Bohanan v. Bohanan. Therein, the Court took judicial notice of the law of Nevada despite failure to prove the same. The Court held, viz.:
We have, however, consulted the records of the case in the court below and we have found that during the hearing on October 4, 1954 of the motion of Magdalena C. Bohanan for withdrawal of P20,000 as her share, the foreign law, especially Section 9905, Compiled Nevada Laws, was introduced in evidence by appellants' (herein) counsel as Exhibit "2" (See pp. 77-79, Vol. II, and t.s.n. pp. 24-44, Records, Court of First Instance). Again said law was presented by the counsel for the executor and admitted by the Court as Exhibit "B" during the hearing of the case on January 23, 1950 before Judge Rafael Amparo (see Records, Court of First Instance, Vol. 1).
In addition, the other appellants, children of the testator, do not dispute the above-quoted provision of the laws of the State of Nevada. Under all the above circumstances, we are constrained to hold that the pertinent law of Nevada, especially Section 9905 of the Compiled Nevada Laws of 1925, can be taken judicial notice of by us, without proof of such law having been offered at the hearing of the project of partition.
In this case, given that the pertinent law of the State of Maryland has been brought to record before the CA, and the trial court in Special Proceeding No. M-888 appropriately took note of the same in disapproving the proposed project of partition of Richard’s estate, not to mention that petitioner or any other interested person for that matter, does not dispute the existence or validity of said law, then Audrey’s and Richard’s estate should be distributed according to their respective wills, and not according to the project of partition submitted by petitioner. Consequently, the entire Makati property belongs to respondent.
A will is the testator speaking after death. Its provisions have substantially the same force and effect in the probate court as if the testator stood before the court in full life making the declarations by word of mouth as they appear in the will. That was the special purpose of the law in the creation of the instrument known as the last will and testament. Men wished to speak after they were dead and the law, by the creation of that instrument, permitted them to do so x x x All doubts must be resolved in favor of the testator's having meant just what he said.
x x x whatever public policy or good customs may be involved in our system of legitimes, Congress has not intended to extend the same to the succession of foreign nationals. For it has specifically chosen to leave, inter alia, the amount of successional rights, to the decedent's national Law. Specific provisions must prevail over general ones.
Before concluding, the Court notes the fact that Audrey and Richard Guersey were American citizens who owned real property in the Philippines, although records do not show when and how the Guerseys acquired the Makati property.
Under Article XIII, Sections 1 and 4 of the 1935 Constitution, the privilege to acquire and exploit lands of the public domain, and other natural resources of the Philippines, and to operate public utilities, were reserved to Filipinos and entities owned or controlled by them. In Republic v. Quasha, the Court clarified that the Parity Rights Amendment of 1946, which re-opened to American citizens and business enterprises the right in the acquisition of lands of the public domain, the disposition, exploitation, development and utilization of natural resources of the Philippines, does not include the acquisition or exploitation of private agricultural lands. The prohibition against acquisition of private lands by aliens was carried on to the 1973 Constitution under Article XIV, Section 14, with the exception of private lands acquired by hereditary succession and when the transfer was made to a former natural-born citizen, as provided in Section 15, Article XIV. As it now stands, Article XII, Sections 7 and 8 of the 1986 Constitution explicitly prohibits non-Filipinos from acquiring or holding title to private lands or to lands of the public domain, except only by way of legal succession or if the acquisition was made by a former natural-born citizen.
In any case, the Court has also ruled 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. In this case, since the Makati property had already passed on to respondent who is a Filipino, then whatever flaw, if any, that attended the acquisition by the Guerseys of the Makati property is now inconsequential, as the objective of the constitutional provision to keep our lands in Filipino hands has been achieved.
WHEREFORE, the petition is denied. The Decision dated March 18, 1999 and the Resolution dated August 27, 1999 of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED.
Petitioner is ADMONISHED to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties as an official of the court.
No pronouncement as to costs.
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
* On leave.
[G.R. No. 76714. June 2, 1994]
SALUD TEODORO VDA. DE PEREZ, petitioner, vs. HON. ZOTICO A. TOLETE in his capacity as Presiding Judge, Branch 18, RTC, Bulacan, respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court to set aside the Order dated November 19, 1986 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Bulacan presided by respondent Judge Zotico A. Tolete, in Special Proceedings No. 1793-M.
We grant the petition.
Dr. Jose F. Cunanan and his wife, Dr. Evelyn Perez-Cunanan, who became American citizens, established a successful medical practice in New York, U.S.A. The Cunanans lived at No. 2896 Citation Drive, Pompey, Syracuse, New York, with their children, Jocelyn, 18; Jacqueline, 16; and Josephine, 14.
On August 23, 1979, Dr. Cunanan executed a last will and testament, bequeathing to his wife "all the remainder" of his real and personal property at the time of his death "wheresoever situated" (Rollo, p. 35). In the event he would survive his wife, he bequeathed all his property to his children and grandchildren with Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. as trustee. He appointed his wife as executrix of his last will and testament and Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. as substitute executor. Article VIII of his will states:
"If my wife, EVELYN PEREZ-CUNANAN, and I shall die under such circumstances that there is not sufficient evidence to determine the order of our deaths, then it shall be presumed that I predeceased her, and my estate shall be administered and distributed, in all respects, in accordance with such presumption" (Rollo, p. 41).
Four days later, on August 27, Dr. Evelyn P. Cunanan executed her own last will and testament containing the same provisions as that of the will of her husband. Article VIII of her will states:
"If my husband, JOSE F. CUNANAN, and I shall die under such circumstances that there is not sufficient evidence to determine the order of our deaths, then it shall be presumed that he predeceased me, and my estate shall be administered and distributed in all respects, in accordance with such presumption" (Rollo, p. 31).
On January 9, 1982, Dr. Cunanan and his entire family perished when they were trapped by fire that gutted their home. Thereafter, Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. as trustee and substitute executor of the two wills, filed separate proceedings for the probate thereof with the Surrogate Court of the County of Onondaga, New York. On April 7, these two wills were admitted to probate and letters testamentary were issued in his favor.
On February 21, 1983, Salud Teodoro Perez, the mother of Dr. Evelyn P. Cunanan, and petitioner herein, filed with the Regional Trial Court, Malolos, Bulacan a petition for the reprobate of the two wills ancillary to the probate proceedings in New York. She also asked that she be appointed the special administratrix of the estate of the deceased couple consisting primarily of a farm land in San Miguel, Bulacan.
On March 9, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, Malolos, Bulacan, presided by Judge Gualberto J. de la Llana, issued an order, directing the issuance of letters of special administration in favor of petitioner upon her filing of a P10,000.00 bond. The following day, petitioner posted the bond and took her oath as special administratrix.
As her first act of administration, petitioner filed a motion, praying that the Philippine Life Insurance Company be directed to deliver the proceeds in the amount of P50,000.00 of the life insurance policy taken by Dr. Jose F. Cunanan with Dr. Evelyn Perez-Cunanan and their daughter Jocelyn as beneficiaries. The trial court granted the motion.
Counsel for the Philippine American Life Insurance Company then filed a manifestation, stating that said company had delivered to petitioner the amount of P49,765.85, representing the proceeds of the life insurance policy of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan.
In a motion dated May 19, 1983, petitioner asked that Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr. be ordered to deliver to her a Philippine Trust Company passbook with P25,594.00 in savings deposit, and the Family Savings Bank time deposit certificates in the total amount of P12,412.52.
On May 31, Atty. Federico Alday filed a notice of appearance as counsel for the heirs of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan, namely, Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr., Priscilla Cunanan Bautista, Lydia Cunanan Ignacio, Felipe F. Cunanan and Loreto Cunanan Concepcion (Cunanan heirs). He also manifested that before receiving petitioner's motion of May 19, 1983, his clients were unaware of the filing of the testate estate case and therefore, "in the interest of simple fair play," they should be notified of the proceedings (Records, p. 110). He prayed for deferment of the hearing on the motion of May 19, 1983.
Petitioner then filed a counter manifestation dated June 13, 1983, asserting: (1) that the "Cunanan collaterals are neither heirs nor creditors of the late Dr. Jose F. Cunanan" and therefore, they had "no legal or proprietary interests to protect" and "no right to intervene"; (2) that the wills of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan and Dr. Evelyn Perez-Cunanan, being American citizens, were executed in accordance with the solemnities and formalities of New York laws, and produced "effects in this jurisdiction in accordance with Art. 16 in relation to Art. 816 of the Civil Code"; (3) that under Article VIII of the two wills, it was presumed that the husband predeceased the wife; and (4) that "the Cunanan collaterals are neither distributees, legatees or beneficiaries, much less, heirs as heirship is only by institution" under a will or by operation of the law of New York (Records, pp. 112-113).
On June 23, the probate court granted petitioner's motion of May 19, 1983. However, on July 21, the Cunanan heirs filed a motion to nullify the proceedings and to set aside the appointment of, or to disqualify, petitioner as special administratrix of the estates of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan and Dr. Evelyn Perez-Cunanan. The motion stated: (1) that being the "brothers and sisters and the legal and surviving heirs" of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan, they had been "deliberately excluded" in the petition for the probate of the separate wills of the Cunanan spouses thereby misleading the Bulacan court to believe that petitioner was the sole heir of the spouses; that such "misrepresentation" deprived them of their right to "due process in violation of Section 4, Rule 76 of the Revised Rules of Court; (2) that Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr., the executor of the estate of the Cunanan spouses, was likewise not notified of the hearings in the Bulacan court; (3) that the "misrepresentation and concealment committed by" petitioner rendered her unfit to be a special administratrix; (4) that Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. had, by virtue of a verified power of attorney, authorized his father, Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr., to be his attorney-in-fact; and (5) that Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr. is qualified to be a regular administrator "as practically all of the subject estate in the Philippines belongs to their brother, Dr. Jose F. Cunanan" (Records, pp. 118-122). Hence, they prayed: (1) that the proceedings in the case be declared null and void; (2) that the appointment of petitioner as special administratrix be set aside; and (3) that Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr. be appointed the regular administrator of the estate of the deceased spouses.
Thereafter, the Cunanan heirs filed a motion requiring petitioner to submit an inventory or accounting of all monies received by her in trust for the estate.
In her opposition, petitioner asserted: (1) that she was the "sole and only heir" of her daughter, Dr. Evelyn Perez-Cunanan to the exclusion of the "Cunanan collaterals"; hence they were complete strangers to the proceedings and were not entitled to notice; (2) that she could not have "concealed" the name and address of Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. because his name was prominently mentioned not only in the two wills but also in the decrees of the American surrogate court; (3) that the rule applicable to the case is Rule 77, not Rule 76, because it involved the allowance of wills proved outside of the Philippines and that nowhere in Section 2 of Rule 77 is there a mention of notice being given to the executor who, by the same provision, should himself file the necessary ancillary proceedings in this country; (4) that even if the Bulacan estate came from the "capital" of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan, he had willed all his worldly goods to his wife and nothing to his brothers and sisters; and (5) that Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. had unlawfully disbursed $215,000.00 to the Cunanan heirs, misappropriated $15,000.00 for himself and irregularly assigned assets of the estates to his American lawyer (Records, pp. 151-160).
In their reply, the Cunanan heirs stressed that on November 24, 1982, petitioner and the Cunanan heirs had entered into an agreement in the United States "to settle and divide equally the estates," and that under Section 2 of Rule 77 the "court shall fix a time and place for the hearing and cause notice thereof to be given as in case of an original will presented for allowance" (Records, pp. 184-185).
Petitioner asked that Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. be cited for contempt of court for failure to comply with the Order of June 23, 1983 and for appropriating money of the estate for his own benefit. She also alleged that she had impugned the agreement of November 24, 1982 before the Surrogate Court of Onondaga, New York which rendered a decision on April 13, 1983, finding that "all assets are payable to Dr. Evelyn P. Cunanan's executor to be then distributed pursuant to EPTL4-1.1 subd [a] par ” (Rollo, p. 52).
On their part, the Cunanan heirs replied that petitioner was estopped from claiming that they were heirs by the agreement to divide equally the estates. They asserted that by virtue of Section 2 of Rule 77 of the Rules of Court, the provision of Sections 3, 4 and 5 of Rule 76 on the requirement of notice to all heirs, executors, devisees and legatees must be complied with. They reiterated their prayer: (1) that the proceedings in the case be nullified; (2) that petitioner be disqualified as special administratrix; (3) that she be ordered to submit an inventory of all goods, chattels and monies which she had received and to surrender the same to the court; and (4) that Dr. Rafael Cunanan, Sr. be appointed the regular administrator.
Petitioner filed a rejoinder, stating that in violation of the April 13, 1983 decision of the American court Dr. Rafael G. Cunanan, Jr. made "unauthorized disbursements from the estates as early as July 7, 1982" (Records, p. 231). Thereafter, petitioner moved for the suspension of the proceedings as she had "to attend to the settlement proceedings" of the estate of the Cunanan spouses in New York (Records, p. 242). The Cunanans heirs opposed this motion and filed a manifestation, stating that petitioner had received $215,000.00 "from the Surrogate's Court as part of legacy" based on the aforesaid agreement of November 24, 1982 (Records, p. 248).
On February 21, 1984, Judge de la Llana issued an order, disallowing the reprobate of the two wills, recalling the appointment of petitioner as special administratrix, requiring the submission of petitioner of an inventory of the property received by her as special administratrix and declaring all pending incidents moot and academic. Judge de la Llana reasoned out that petitioner failed to prove the law of New York on procedure and allowance of wills and the court had no way of telling whether the wills were executed in accordance with the law of New York. In the absence of such evidence, the presumption is that the law of succession of the foreign country is the same as the law of the Philippines. However, he noted, that there were only two witnesses to the wills of the Cunanan spouses and the Philippine law requires three witnesses and that the wills were not signed on each and every page, a requirement of the Philippine law.
On August 27, 1985, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the Order dated February 21, 1984, where she had sufficiently proven the applicable laws of New York governing the execution of last wills and testaments.
On the same day, Judge de la Llana issued another order, denying the motion of petitioner for the suspension of the proceedings but gave her 15 days upon arrival in the country within which to act on the other order issued that same day. Contending that the second portion of the second order left its finality to the discretion of counsel for petitioner, the Cunanans filed a motion for the reconsideration of the objectionable portion of the said order so that it would conform with the pertinent provisions of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 and the Interim Rules of Court.
On April 30, 1985, the respondent Judge of Branch 18 of the Regional Trial Court, Malolos, to which the reprobate case was reassigned, issued an order stating that "(W)hen the last will and testament xxx was denied probate," the case was terminated and therefore all orders theretofore issued should be given finality. The same Order amended the February 21, 1984 Order by requiring petitioner to turn over to the estate the inventoried property. It considered the proceedings for all intents and purposes, closed (Records, p. 302).
On August 12, petitioner filed a motion to resume proceedings on account of the final settlement and termination of the probate cases in New York. Three days later, petitioner filed a motion praying for the reconsideration of the Order of April 30, 1985 on the strength of the February 21, 1984 Order granting her a period of 15 days upon arrival in the country within which to act on the denial of probate of the wills of the Cunanan spouses. On August 19, respondent Judge granted the motion and reconsidered the Order of April 30, 1985.
On August 29, counsel for petitioner, who happens to be her daughter, Natividad, filed a motion praying that since petitioner was ailing in Fort Lee, New Jersey, U.S.A. and therefore incapacitated to act as special administratrix, she (the counsel) should be named substitute special administratrix. She also filed a motion for the reconsideration of the Order of February 21, 1984, denying probate to the wills of the Cunanan spouses, alleging that respondent Judge "failed to appreciate the significant probative value of the exhibits x x x which all refer to the offer and admission to probate of the last wills of the Cunanan spouses including all procedures undertaken and decrees issued in connection with the said probate" (Records, pp. 313-323).
Thereafter, the Cunanans heirs filed a motion for reconsideration of the Order of August 19, 1985, alleging lack of notice to their counsel.
On March 31, 1986, respondent Judge to which the case was reassigned denied the motion for reconsideration holding that the documents submitted by petitioner proved "that the wills of the testator domiciled abroad were properly executed, genuine and sufficient to possess real and personal property; that letters testamentary were issued; and that proceedings were held on a foreign tribunal and proofs taken by a competent judge who inquired into all the facts and circumstances and being satisfied with his findings issued a decree admitting to probate the wills in question." However, respondent Judge said that the documents did not establish the law of New York on the procedure and allowance of wills (Records, p. 381).
On April 9, 1986, petitioner filed a motion to allow her to present further evidence on the foreign law. After the hearing of the motion on April 25, 1986, respondent Judge issued an order wherein he conceded that insufficiency of evidence to prove the foreign law was not a fatal defect and was curable by adducing additional evidence. He granted petitioner 45 days to submit the evidence to that effect.
However, without waiting for petitioner to adduce the additional evidence, respondent Judge ruled in his order dated June 20, 1986 that he found "no compelling reason to disturb its ruling of March 31, 1986" but allowed petitioner to "file anew the appropriate probate proceedings for each of the testator" (Records, p. 391).
The Order dated June 20, 1986 prompted petitioner to file a second motion for reconsideration stating that she was "ready to submit further evidence on the law obtaining in the State of New York” and praying that she be granted "the opportunity to present evidence on what the law of the State of New York has on the probate and allowance of wills" (Records, p. 393).
On July 18, respondent Judge denied the motion holding that to allow the probate of two wills in a single proceeding "would be a departure from the typical and established mode of probate where one petition takes care of one will." He pointed out that even in New York “where the wills in question were first submitted for probate, they were dealt with in separate proceedings" (Records, p. 395).
On August 13, 1986, petitioner filed a motion for the reconsideration of the Order of July 18, 1986, citing Section 3, Rule 2 of the Rules of Court, which provides that no party may institute more than one suit for a single cause of action. She pointed out that separate proceedings for the wills of the spouses which contain basically the same provisions as they even named each other as a beneficiary in their respective wills, would go against "the grain of inexpensive, just and speedy determination of the proceedings" (Records, pp. 405-407).
On September 11, 1986, petitioner filed a supplement to the motion for reconsideration, citing Benigno v. De La Peña, 57 Phil. 305 (1932) (Records, p. 411), but respondent Judge found that this pleading had been filed out of time and that the adverse party had not been furnished with a copy thereof. In her compliance, petitioner stated that she had furnished a copy of the motion to the counsel of the Cunanan heirs and reiterated her motion for a "final ruling on her supplemental motion" (Records, p. 421).
On November 19, respondent Judge issued an order, denying the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner on the grounds that "the probate of separate wills of two or more different persons even if they are husband and wife cannot be undertaken in a single petition" (Records, pp. 376-378).
Hence, petitioner instituted the instant petition, arguing that the evidence offered at the hearing of April 11, 1983 sufficiently proved the laws of the State of New York on the allowance of wills, and that the separate wills of the Cunanan spouses need not be probated in separate proceedings.
(b) two certifications from the Secretary of State of New York and Custodian of the Great Seal on the facts that Judge Bernard L. Reagan is the Surrogate of the County of Onondaga which is a court of record, that his signature and seal of office are genuine, and that the Surrogate is duly authorized to grant copy of the respective wills of Evelyn and Jose (Exhs. “F-1” and “G-1”);
(f) two certificates of authentication from the Consulate General of the Philippines in New York (Exh. "H" and "F").
(g) certifications from the Secretary of State that Judge Reagan is duly authorized to grant exemplified copies of the decree of probate, letters testamentary and all proceedings had and proofs duly taken (Exhs. “H-1” and "I-1");
(h) certificates of Judge Reagan and the Chief Clerk that letters testamentary were issued to Rafael G. Cunanan (Exhs. "H-2" and "I-2");
(i) certification to the effect that it was during the term of Judge Reagan that a decree admitting the wills to probate had been issued and appointing Rafael G. Cunanan as alternate executor (Exhs. "H-3" and "I-10");
(k) decrees on probate of the two wills stating that they were properly executed, genuine and valid and that the said instruments were admitted to probate and established as wills valid to pass real and personal property (Exhs. "H-5" and "I-5"); and
(l) certificates of Judge Reagan and the Chief Clerk on the genuineness and authenticity of each other's signatures in the exemplified copies of the decrees of probate, letters testamentary and proceedings held in their court (Exhs. “H-6" and "I-6")" (Rollo, pp. 13-16).
"Art. 816. The will of an alien who is abroad produces effect in the Philippines if made with the formalities prescribed by the law of the place in which he resides, or according to the formalities observed in his country, or in conformity with those which this Code prescribes."
The evidence necessary for the reprobate or allowance of wills which have been probated outside of the Philippines are as follows: (1) the due execution of the will in accordance with the foreign laws; (2) the testator has his domicile in the foreign country and not in the Philippines; (3) the will has been admitted to probate in such country; (4) the fact that the foreign tribunal is a probate court, and (5) the laws of a foreign country on procedure and allowance of wills (III Moran Commentaries on the Rules of Court, 1970 ed., pp. 419-429; Suntay v. Suntay, 95 Phil. 500 ; Fluemer v. Hix, 54 Phil. 610 ). Except for the first and last requirements, the petitioner submitted all the needed evidence.
The necessity of presenting evidence on the foreign laws upon which the probate in the foreign country is based is impelled by the fact that our courts cannot take judicial notice of them (Philippine Commercial and Industrial Bank v. Escolin, 56 SCRA 266 ).
Petitioner must have perceived this omission as in fact she moved for more time to submit the pertinent procedural and substantive New York laws but which request respondent Judge just glossed over. While the probate of a will is a special proceeding wherein courts should relax the rules on evidence, the goal is to receive the best evidence of which the matter is susceptible before a purported will is probated or denied probate (Vda. de Ramos v. Court of Appeals, 81 SCRA 393 ).
There is merit in petitioner's insistence that the separate wills of the Cunanan spouses should be probated jointly. Respondent Judge’s view that the Rules on allowance of wills is couched in singular terms and therefore should be interpreted to mean that there should be separate probate proceedings for the wills of the Cunanan spouses is too literal and simplistic an approach. Such view overlooks the provisions of Section 2, Rule 1 of the Revised Rules of Court, which advise that the rules shall be "liberally construed in order to promote their object and to assist the parties in obtaining just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding."
A literal application of the Rules should be avoided if they would only result in the delay in the administration of justice (Acain v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 155 SCRA 100 ; Roberts v. Leonidas, 129 SCRA 33 ).
What the law expressly prohibits is the making of joint wills either for the testators' reciprocal benefit or for the benefit of a third person (Civil Code of the Philippines, Article 818). In the case at bench, the Cunanan spouses executed separate wills. Since the two wills contain essentially the same provisions and pertain to property which in all probability are conjugal in nature, practical considerations dictate their joint probate. As this Court has held a number of times, it will always strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding leaving no root or branch to bear the seeds of future litigation (Motoomull v. Dela Paz, 187 SCRA 743 ).
This petition cannot be completely resolved without touching on a very glaring fact - petitioner has always considered herself the sole heir of Dr. Evelyn Perez Cunanan and because she does not consider herself an heir of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan, she noticeably failed to notify his heirs of the filing of the proceedings. Thus, even in the instant petition, she only impleaded respondent Judge, forgetting that a judge whose order is being assailed is merely a nominal or formal party (Calderon v. Solicitor General, 215 SCRA 876 ).
The rule that the court having jurisdiction over the reprobate of a will shall "cause notice thereof to be given as in case of an original will presented for allowance" (Revised Rules of Court, Rule 27, Section 2) means that with regard to notices, the will probated abroad should be treated as if it were an "original will" or a will that is presented for probate for the first time. Accordingly, compliance with Sections 3 and 4 of Rule 76, which require publication and notice by mail or personally to the "known heirs, legatees, and devisees of the testator resident in the Philippines" and to the executor, if he is not the petitioner, are required.
The brothers and sisters of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan, contrary to petitioner's claim, are entitled to notices of the time and place for proving the wills. Under Section 4 of Rule 76 of the Revised Rules of Court, the "court shall also cause copies of the notice of the time and place fixed for proving the will to be addressed to the designated or other known heirs, legatees, and devisees of the testator, xxx".
WHEREFORE, the questioned Order is SET ASIDE. Respondent Judge shall allow petitioner reasonable time within which to submit evidence needed for the joint probate of the wills of the Cunanan spouses and see to it that the brothers and sisters of Dr. Jose F. Cunanan are given all notices and copies of all pleadings pertinent to the probate proceedings.
Davide, Jr., (Acting Chairman), Bellosillo, and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
Cruz, J., (Chairman), on leave.
[G.R. No. L-38338. January 28, 1985]
IN THE MATTER OF THE INTESTATE ESTATE OF ANDRES G. DE JESUS AND BIBIANA ROXAS DE JESUS, SIMEON R. ROXAS & PEDRO ROXAS DE JESUS, petitioners, vs. ANDRES R. DE JESUS, JR., respondent.
D E C I S I O N
GUTIERREZ, JR., J.:
This is a petition for certiorari to set aside the order of respondent Hon. Jose C. Colayco, Presiding Judge Court of First Instance of Manila, Branch XXI disallowing the probate of the holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus.
The antecedent facts which led to the filing of this petition are undisputed.
After the death of spouses Andres G. de Jesus and Bibiana Roxas de Jesus, Special Proceeding No. 81503 entitled "In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of Andres G. de Jesus and Bibiana Roxas de Jesus" was filed by petitioner Simeon R. Roxas, the brother of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus.
On March 26, 1973, petitioner Simeon R. Roxas was appointed administrator. After Letters of Administration had been granted to the petitioner, he delivered to the lower court a document purporting to be the holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus.
On May 26, 1973, respondent Judge Jose Colayco set the hearing of the probate of the holographic Will on July 21, 1973.
Petitioner Simeon R. Roxas testified that after his appointment as administrator, he found a notebook belonging to the deceased Bibiana R. de Jesus and that on pages 21, 22, 23 and 24 thereof, a letter-will addressed to her children and entirely written and signed in the handwriting of the deceased Bibiana R. de Jesus was found. The will is dated "FEB./61" and states: "This is my will which I want to be respected altho it is not written by a lawyer. x x x”
The testimony of Simeon R. Roxas was corroborated by the testimonies of Pedro Roxas de Jesus and Manuel Roxas de Jesus who likewise testified that the letter dated "FEB./61" is the holographic Will of their deceased mother, Bibiana R. de Jesus. Both recognized the handwriting of their mother and positively identified her signature. They further testified that their deceased mother understood English, the language in which the holographic Will is written, and that the date "FEB./61" was the date when said Will was executed by their mother.
Respondent Luz R. Henson, another compulsory heir filed an "opposition to probate" assailing the purported holographic Will of Bibiana R. de Jesus because - (a) it was not executed in accordance with law, (b) it was executed through force, intimidation and/or under duress, undue influence and improper pressure, and (c) the alleged testatrix acted by mistake and/or did not intend, nor could have intended the said Will to be her last Will and testament at the time of its execution.
On August 24, 1973, respondent Judge Jose C. Colayco issued an order allowing the probate of the holographic Will which he found to have been duly executed in accordance with law.
Respondent Luz Roxas de Jesus filed a motion for reconsideration alleging inter alia that the alleged holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana R. de Jesus was not dated as required by Article 810 of the Civil Code. She contends that the law requires that the Will should contain the day, month, and year of its execution and that this should be strictly complied with.
On December 10, 1973, respondent Judge Colayco reconsidered his earlier order and disallowed the probate of the holographic Will on the ground that the word "dated" has generally been held to include the month, day, and year. The dispositive portion of the order reads:
"WHEREFORE, the document purporting to be the holographic Will of Bibiana Roxas de Jesus, is hereby disallowed for not having been executed as required by the law. The order of August 24, 1973 is hereby set aside."
The only issue is whether or not the date "FEB./61" appearing on the holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus is a valid compliance with the Article 810 of the Civil Code which reads:
ART. 810. A person may execute a holographic will which must be entirely written, dated, and signed by the hand of the testator himself. It is subject to no other form, and may be made in or out of the Philippines, and need not be witnessed."
The petitioners contend that while Article 685 of the Spanish Civil Code and Article 688 of the Old Civil Code require the testator to state in his holographic Will the "year, month, and day of its execution", the present Civil Code omitted the phrase "Año, mes y dia" and simply requires that the holographic Will should be dated. The petitioners submit that the liberal construction of the holographic Will should prevail.
Respondent Luz Henson on the other hand submits that the purported holographic Will is void for non-compliance with Article 810 of the New Civil Code in that the date must contain the year, month, and day of its execution. The respondent contends that Article 810 of the Civil Code was patterned after Section 1277 of the California Code and Section 1588 of the Louisiana Code whose Supreme Courts had consistently ruled that the required date includes the year, month, and day, and that if any of these is wanting, the holographic Will is invalid. The respondent further contends that the petitioner cannot plead liberal construction of Article 810 of the Civil Code because statutes prescribing the formalities to be observed in the execution of holographic Wills are strictly construed.
We agree with the petitioner.
This will not be the first time that this Court departs from a strict and literal application of the statutory requirements regarding the due execution of Wills. We should not overlook the liberal trend of the Civil Code in the manner of execution of Wills, the purpose of which, in case of doubt is to prevent intestacy -
"The underlying and fundamental objectives permeating the provisions of the law on wills in this Project consists in the liberalization of the manner of their execution with the end in view of giving the testator more freedom in expressing his last wishes, but with sufficient safeguards and restrictions to prevent the commission of fraud and the exercise of undue and improper pressure and influence upon the testator.
"This objective is in accord with the modern tendency with respect to the formalities in the execution of wills." (Report of the Code Commission, p. 103)
In Justice Capistrano's concurring opinion in Heirs of Raymundo Castro v. Bustos (27 SCRA 327) he emphasized that:
xxx xxx xxx.
"x x x The law has a tender regard for the will of the testator expressed in his last will and testament on the ground that any disposition made by the testator is better than that which the law can make. For this reason, intestate succession is nothing more than a disposition based upon the presumed will of the decedent."
Thus, the prevailing policy is to require satisfaction of the legal requirements in order to guard against fraud and bad faith but without undue or unnecessary curtailment of testamentary privilege (Icasiano v. Icasiano, 11 SCRA 422). If a Will has been executed in substantial compliance with the formalities of the law, and the possibility of bad faith and fraud in the exercise thereof is obviated, said Will should be admitted to probate (Rey v. Cartagena, 56 Phil. 282). Thus,
xxx xxx xxx
"x x x More than anything else, the facts and circumstances of record are to be considered in the application of any given rule. If the surrounding circumstances point to a regular execution of the will, and the instrument appears to have been executed substantially in accordance with the requirements of the law, the inclination should, in the absence of any suggestion of bad faith, forgery or fraud, lean towards its admission to probate, although the document may suffer from some imperfection of language, or other non-essential defect. x x x" (Leynez v. Leynez, 68 Phil. 745).
If the testator, in executing his Will, attempts to comply with all the requisites, although compliance is not literal, it is sufficient if the objective or purpose sought to be accomplished by such requisite is actually attained by the form followed by the testator.
The purpose of the solemnities surrounding the execution of Wills has been expounded by this Court in Abangan v. Abangan, 40 Phil. 476) where we ruled that:
"The object of the solemnities surrounding the execution of wills is to close the door against bad faith and fraud, to avoid substitution of wills and testaments and to guaranty their truth and authenticity. x x x"
In particular, a complete date is required to provide against such contingencies as that of two competing Wills executed on the same day, or of a testator becoming insane on the day on which a Will was executed (Velasco v. Lopez, 1 Phil. 720). There is no such contingency in this case.
We have carefully reviewed the records of this case and found no evidence of bad faith and fraud in its execution nor was there any substitution of Wills and Testaments. There is no question that the holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus was entirely written, dated, and signed by the testatrix herself and in a language known to her. There is also no question as to its genuineness and due execution. All the children of the testatrix agree on the genuineness of the holographic Will of their mother and that she had the testamentary capacity at the time of the execution of said Will. The objection interposed by the oppositor-respondent Luz Henson is that the holographic Will is fatally defective because the date "FEB./61" appearing on the holographic Will is not sufficient compliance with Article 810 of the Civil Code. This objection is too technical to be entertained.
As a general rule, the "date" in a holographic Will should include the day, month, and year of its execution. However, when as in the case at bar, there is no appearance of fraud, bad faith, undue influence and pressure and the authenticity of the Will is established and the only issue is whether or not the date "FEB./61" appearing on the holographic Will is a valid compliance with Article 810 of the Civil Code, probate of the holographic Will should be allowed under the principle of substantial compliance.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Order appealed from is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the order allowing the probate of the holographic Will of the deceased Bibiana Roxas de Jesus is reinstated.
Teehankee, (Chairman), Melencio-Herrera, Plana, Relova, and De la Fuente, JJ., concur.
[G.R. No. 106720. September 15, 1994]
SPOUSES ROBERTO AND THELMA AJERO, petitioners, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS AND CLEMENTE SAND, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is an appeal by certiorari from the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 22840, dated March 30, 1992, the dispositive portion of which reads:
“PREMISES CONSIDERED, the questioned decision of November 19, 1988 of the trial court is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the petition for probate is hereby DISMISSED. No costs."
The earlier Decision was rendered by the RTC of Quezon City, Branch 94, in Sp. Proc. No. Q-37171, and the instrument submitted for probate is the holographic will of the late Annie Sand, who died on November 25, 1982.
In the will, decedent named as devisees, the following: petitioners Roberto and Thelma Ajero, private respondent Clemente Sand, Meriam S. Arong, Leah Sand, Lilia Sand, Edgar Sand, Fe Sand, Lisa S. Sand, and Dr. Jose Ajero, Sr., and their children.
On January 20, 1983, petitioners instituted Sp. Proc. No. Q-37171, for allowance of decedent's holographic will. They alleged that at the time of its execution, she was of sound and disposing mind, not acting under duress, fraud or undue influence, and was in every respect capacitated to dispose of her estate by will.
Private respondent opposed the petition on the grounds that: neither the testament's body nor the signature therein was in decedent's handwriting; it contained alterations and corrections which were not duly signed by decedent; and, the will was procured by petitioners through improper pressure and undue influence. The petition was likewise opposed by Dr. Jose Ajero. He contested the disposition in the will of a house and lot located in Cabadbaran, Agusan Del Norte. He claimed that said property could not be conveyed by decedent in its entirety, as she was not its sole owner.
Notwithstanding the oppositions, the trial court admitted the decedent's holographic will to probate. It found, inter alia:
"Considering then that the probate proceedings herein must decide only the question of identity of the will, its due execution and the testamentary capacity of the testatrix, this probate court finds no reason at all for the disallowance of the will for its failure to comply with the formalities prescribed by law nor for lack of testamentary capacity of the testatrix.
"For one, no evidence was presented to show that the will in question is different from the will actually executed by the testatrix. The only objections raised by the oppositors xxx are that the will was not written in the handwriting of the testatrix which properly refers to the question of its due execution, and not to the question of identity of will. No other will was alleged to have been executed by the testatrix other than the will herein presented. Hence, in the light of the evidence adduced, the identity of the will presented for probate must be accepted, i.e., the will submitted in Court must be deemed to be the will actually executed by the testatrix.
"xxx xxx xxx
"While the fact that it was entirely written, dated and signed in the handwriting of the testatrix has been disputed, the petitioners, however, have satisfactorily shown in Court that the holographic will in question was indeed written entirely, dated and signed in the handwriting of the testatrix. Three (3) witnesses who have convincingly shown knowledge of the handwriting of the testatrix have been presented and have explicitly and categorically identified the handwriting with which the holographic will in question was written to be the genuine handwriting and signature of the testatrix. Given then the aforesaid evidence, the requirement of the law that the holographic will be entirely written, dated and signed in the handwriting of the testatrix has been complied with.
"xxx xxx xxx
"As to the question of the testamentary capacity of the testatrix, (private respondent) Clemente Sand himself has testified in Court that the testatrix was completely in her sound mind when he visited her during her birthday celebration in 1981, at or around which time the holographic will in question was executed by the testatrix. To be of sound mind, it is sufficient that the testatrix, at the time of making the will, knew the value of the estate to be disposed of, the proper object of her bounty, and the character of the testamentary act xxx. The will itself shows that the testatrix even had detailed knowledge of the nature of her estate. She even identified the lot number and square meters of the lots she had conveyed by will. The objects of her bounty were likewise identified explicitly. And considering that she had even written a nursing book which contained the law and jurisprudence on will and succession, there is more than sufficient showing that she knows the character of the testamentary act.
"In this wise, the question of identity of the will, its due execution and the testamentary capacity of the testatrix has to be resolved in favor of the allowance of probate of the will submitted herein.
"Likewise, no evidence was presented to show sufficient reason for the disallowance of herein holographic will. While it was alleged that the said will was procured by undue and improper pressure and influence on the part of the beneficiary or of some other person, the evidence adduced have not shown any instance where improper pressure or influence was exerted on the testatrix. (Private respondent) Clemente Sand has testified that the testatrix was still alert at the time of the execution of the will, i.e., at or around the time of her birth anniversary celebration in 1981. It was also established that she is a very intelligent person and has a mind of her own. Her independence of character and to some extent, her sense of superiority, which has been testified to in Court, all show the unlikelihood of her being unduly influenced or improperly pressured to make the aforesaid will. It must be noted that the undue influence or improper pressure in question herein only refer to the making of a will and not as to the specific testamentary provisions therein which is the proper subject of another proceeding. Hence, under the circumstances, this Court cannot find convincing reason for the disallowance of the will herein.
"Considering then that it is a well-established doctrine in the law on succession that in case of doubt, testate succession should be preferred over intestate succession, and the fact that no convincing grounds were presented and proven for the disallowance of the holographic will of the late Annie Sand, the aforesaid will submitted herein must be admitted to probate." (Citations omitted.)
On appeal, said Decision was reversed, and the petition for probate of decedent's will was dismissed. The Court of Appeals found that, "the holographic will fails to meet the requirements for its validity." It held that the decedent did not comply with Articles 813 and 814 of the New Civil Code, which read, as follows:
"Article 813: When a number of dispositions appearing in a holographic will are signed without being dated, and the last disposition has a signature and date, such date validates the dispositions preceding it, whatever be the time of prior dispositions."
"Article 814: In case of insertion, cancellation, erasure or alteration in a holographic will, the testator must authenticate the same by his full signature."
It alluded to certain dispositions in the will which were either unsigned and undated, or signed but not dated. It also found that the erasures, alterations and cancellations made thereon had not been authenticated by decedent.
Thus, this appeal which is impressed with merit.
Section 9, Rule 76 of the Rules of Court provides that wills shall be disallowed in any of the following cases:
"(a) If not executed and attested as required by law;
(b) If the testator was insane, or otherwise mentally incapable to make a will, at the time of its execution;
(c) If it was executed under duress, or the influence of fear, or threats;
(d) If it was procured by undue and improper pressure and influence, on the part of the beneficiary, or of some other person for his benefit;
(e) If the signature of the testator was procured by fraud or trick, and he did not intend that the instrument should be his will at the time of fixing his signature thereto."
In the same vein, Article 839 of the New Civil Code reads:
"Article 839: The will shall be disallowed in any of the following cases:
(1) If the formalities required by law have not been complied with;
(2) If the testator was insane, or otherwise mentally incapable of making a will, at the time of its execution;
(3) If it was executed through force or under duress, or the influence of fear, or threats;
(4) If it was procured by undue and improper pressure and influence, on the part of the beneficiary or of some other person;
(5) If the signature of the testator was procured by fraud;
(6) If the testator acted by mistake or did not intend that the instrument he signed should be his will at the time of affixing his signature thereto."
These lists are exclusive; no other grounds can serve to disallow a will. Thus, in a petition to admit a holographic will to probate, the only issues to be resolved are: (1) whether the instrument submitted is, indeed, the decedent's last will and testament; (2) whether said will was executed in accordance with the formalities prescribed by law; (3) whether the decedent had the necessary testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed; and, (4) whether the execution of the will and its signing were the voluntary acts of the decedent.
In the case at bench, respondent court held that the holographic will of Anne Sand was not executed in accordance with the formalities prescribed by law. It held that Articles 813 and 814 of the New Civil Code, ante, were not complied with, hence, it disallowed the probate of said will. This is erroneous.
We reiterate what we held in Abangan vs. Abangan, 40 Phil. 476, 479 (1919), that:
"The object of the solemnities surrounding the execution of wills is to close the door against bad faith and fraud, to avoid substitution of wills and testaments and to guaranty their truth and authenticity. Therefore, the laws on this subject should be interpreted in such a way as to attain these primordial ends. But, on the other hand, also one must not lose sight of the fact that it is not the object of the law to restrain and curtail the exercise of the right to make a will. So when an interpretation already given assures such ends, any other interpretation whatsoever, that adds nothing but demands more requisites entirely unnecessary, useless and frustrative of the testator's last will, must be disregarded."
For purposes of probating non-holographic wills, these formal solemnities include the subscription, attestation, and acknowledgment requirements under Articles 805 and 806 of the New Civil Code.
In the case of holographic wills, on the other hand, what assures authenticity is the requirement that they be totally autographic or handwritten by the testator himself, as provided under Article 810 of the New Civil Code, thus:
"A person may execute a holographic will which must be entirely written, dated, and signed by the hand of the testator himself. It is subject to no other form, and may be made in or out of the Philippines, and need not be witnessed." (Italics supplied.)
Failure to strictly observe other formalities will not result in the disallowance of a holographic will that is unquestionably handwritten by the testator.
A reading of Article 813 of the New Civil Code shows that its requirement affects the validity of the dispositions contained in the holographic will, but not its probate. If the testator fails to sign and date some of the dispositions, the result is that these dispositions cannot be effectuated. Such failure, however, does not render the whole testament void.
Likewise, a holographic will can still be admitted to probate, notwithstanding non-compliance with the provisions of Article 814. In the case of Kalaw vs. Relova, 132 SCRA 237, 242 (1984), this Court held:
"Ordinarily, when a number of erasures, corrections, and interlineations made by the testator in a holographic Will have not been noted under his signature, xxx the Will is not thereby invalidated as a whole, but at most only as respects the particular words erased, corrected or interlined. Manresa gave an identical commentary when he said ‘la omision de la salvedad no anula el testamento, segun la regla de jurisprudencia establecida en la sentencia de 4 de Abril de 1895.’" (Citations omitted.)
Thus, unless the unauthenticated alterations, cancellations or insertions were made on the date of the holographic will or on testator's signature, their presence does not invalidate the will itself. The lack of authentication will only result in disallowance of such changes.
It is also proper to note that the requirements of authentication of changes and signing and dating of dispositions appear in provisions (Articles 813 and 814) separate from that which provides for the necessary conditions for the validity of the holographic will (Article 810). The distinction can be traced to Articles 678 and 688 of the Spanish Civil Code, from which the present provisions covering holographic wills are taken. They read as follows:
"Article 678: A will is called holographic when the testator writes it himself in the form and with the requisites required in Article 688."
"Article 688: Holographic wills may be executed only by persons of full age.
"In order that the will be valid it must be drawn on stamped paper corresponding to the year of its execution, written in its entirety by the testator and signed by him, and must contain a statement of the year, month and day of its execution.
"If it should contain any erased, corrected, or interlined words, the testator must identify them over his signature.
"Foreigners may execute holographic wills in their own language."
This separation and distinction adds support to the interpretation that only the requirements of Article 810 of the New Civil Code -- and not those found in Articles 813 and 814 of the same Code -- are essential to the probate of a holographic will.
The Court of Appeals further held that decedent Annie Sand could not validly dispose of the house and lot located in Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, in its entirety. This is correct and must be affirmed.
As a general rule, courts in probate proceedings are limited to pass only upon the extrinsic validity of the will sought to be probated. However, in exceptional instances, courts are not powerless to do what the situation constrains them to do, and pass upon certain provisions of the will. In the case at bench, decedent herself indubitably stated in her holographic will that the Cabadbaran property is in the name of her late father, John H. Sand (which led oppositor Dr. Jose Ajero to question her conveyance of the same in its entirety). Thus, as correctly held by respondent court, she cannot validly dispose of the whole property, which she shares with her father's other heirs.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 22840, dated March 30, 1992, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE, except with respect to the invalidity of the disposition of the entire house and lot in Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 94 in Sp. Proc. No. Q-37171, dated November 19, 1988, admitting to probate the holographic will of decedent Annie Sand, is hereby REINSTATED, with the above qualification as regards the Cabadbaran property. No costs.
Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Padilla, Regalado, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Sixteenth Division, composed of Associate Justices Luis L. Victor (ponente), Ricardo J. Francisco (chairman), and Pacita Cañizares-Nye.
Presided by Judge Filemon H. Mendoza.
Rollo, pp. 37-39.
Impugned Decision, p. 5; Rollo, p. 46.
Person vs. Coronel, 45 Phil. 216 (1923); See 3 EDGARDO L. PARAS, Civil Code of the Philippines Annotated (1989), pp. 145-146.
See Montanaño vs. Suesa, 14 Phil. 676 (1909).
See Fernando vs. Villalon, 3 Phil. 386 (1904).
See Velasco vs. Lopez, 1 Phil. 720, 725 (1903), citing a Decision of the Supreme Court of Spain, dated April 4, 1895; See also, 3 MANRESA, Commentarios al Codigo Español (Quinta ed.), p. 483; See further, 3 ARTURO M. TOLENTINO, Commentaries & Jurisprudence on the Civil Code (1973), p. 107, citing Castan 341, 5 Valverde 82; 3 AMBROSIO PADILLA, Civil Code Annotated (1987), pp. 157-158; 2 RAMON C. AQUINO and CAROLINA C. GRIÑO-AQUINO (1990), p. 42.
3 PARAS, op. cit..
It must be noted, however, that in Kalaw, this Court laid down an exception to the general rule, when it invalidated the entire will because of an unauthenticated erasure made by the testator. In that case, the will had only one substantial provision. This was altered by substituting the original heir with another, with such alteration being unauthenticated. This Court held that the whole will was void "for the simple reason that nothing remains in the Will after (the provision is invalidated) which could remain valid. To state that the Will as first written should be given efficacy is to disregard the seeming change of mind of the testatrix. But, that change of mind can neither be given effect because she failed to authenticate it in the manner required by law by affixing her full signature."
Nepomuceno vs. Court of Appeals, 139 SCRA 206 (1985); See Nuguid vs. Nuguid, 17 SCRA 449 (1966); See also Cayetano vs. Leonidas, 129 SCRA 522 (1984).
OCTAVIO S. MALOLES II, petitioner, vs. PACITA DE LOS REYES PHILLIPS, respondent.
OCTAVIO S. MALOLES II, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, HON. FERNANDO V. GOROSPE, JR., in his Official Capacity as Presiding Judge of RTC-Makati, Branch 61, and PACITA PHILLIPS as the alleged executrix of the alleged will of the late Dr. Arturo de Santos, respondents. ScmisÓ
D E C I S I O N
These are petitions for review on certiorari of the decisions of the Thirteenth and the Special Eighth Divisions of the Court of Appeals which ruled that petitioner has no right to intervene in the settlement of the estate of Dr. Arturo de Santos. The cases were consolidated considering that they involve the same parties and some of the issues raised are the same.
The facts which gave rise to these two petitions are as follows:
On July 20, 1995, Dr. Arturo de Santos, Filipino and a resident of Makati City, filed a petition for probate of his will in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 61, Makati, docketed as Sp. Proc. No. M-4223. In his petition, Dr. De Santos alleged that he had no compulsory heirs; that he had named in his will as sole legatee and devisee the Arturo de Santos Foundation, Inc.; that he disposed by his will his properties with an approximate value of not less than P2,000,000.00; and that copies of said will were in the custody of the named executrix, private respondent Pacita de los Reyes Phillips. A copy of the will was annexed to the petition for probate.
On February 16, 1996, Judge Fernando V. Gorospe, Jr. of RTC-Makati, Branch 61 issued an order granting the petition and allowing the will. The order reads:
On 03 August 1995, the Court issued an Order setting the hearing of the petition on 12 September 1995, at 8:30 o’clock in the morning, copies of which were served to Arturo de Santos Foundation, Inc. and Ms. Pacita de los Reyes Phillips (Officer’s Return, dated 04 September 1995 attached to the records). When the case was called for hearing on the date set, no oppositor appeared nor any written opposition was ever filed and on motion of petitioner, he was allowed to adduce his evidence in support of the petition.
Petitioner personally appeared before this Court and was placed on the witness stand and was directly examined by the Court through "free wheeling" questions and answers to give this Court a basis to determine the state of mind of the petitioner when he executed the subject will. After the examination, the Court is convinced that petitioner is of sound and disposing mind and not acting on duress, menace and undue influence or fraud, and that petitioner signed his Last Will and Testament on his own free and voluntary will and that he was neither forced nor influenced by any other person in signing it. MisÓ sc
Furthermore, it appears from the petition and the evidence adduced that petitioner in his lifetime, executed his Last Will and Testament (Exhs. "A", "A-1", "A-2", "A-4", "A-5") at his residence situated at 9 Bauhinia corner Intsia Streets, Forbes Park, Makati City; said Last Will and Testament was signed in the presence of his three (3) witnesses, namely, to wit: Dr. Elpidio Valencia (Exhs. "A-6", "A-7", "A-8", "A-16", "A-16-A"), Atty. Edward J. Berenguer (Exhs. "A-3", "A-3-A", "A-9", "A-10", & "A-11"), and Atty. Victoria C. delos Reyes (Exhs. "A-12", "A-13", "A-14", "A-17", & "A-18"), who in turn, in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each and all of the witnesses signed the said Last Will and Testament and duly notarized before Notary Public Anna Melissa L. Rosario (Exh. "A-15"); on the actual execution of the Last Will and Testament, pictures were taken (Exhs. "B" to "B-3").
Petitioner has no compulsory heirs and Arturo de Santos Foundation, Inc., with address at No. 9 Bauhinia corner Intsia Streets, Forbes Park, Makati City has been named as sole legatee and devisee of petitioner’s properties, real and personal, approximately valued at not less than P2 million, Ms. Pacita de los Reyes Phillips was designated as executor and to serve as such without a bond.
From the foregoing facts, the Court finds that the petitioner has substantially established the material allegations contained in his petition. The Last Will and Testament having been executed and attested as required by law; that testator at the time of the execution of the will was of sane mind and/or not mentally incapable to make a Will; nor was it executed under duress or under the influence of fear or threats; that it was in writing and executed in the language known and understood by the testator duly subscribed thereof and attested and subscribed by three (3) credible witnesses in the presence of the testator and of another; that the testator and all the attesting witnesses signed the Last Will and Testament freely and voluntarily and that the testator has intended that the instrument should be his Will at the time of affixing his signature thereto.
WHEREFORE, as prayed for by the petitioner (testator himself) the petition for the allowance of the Last Will and Testament of Arturo de Santos is hereby APPROVED and ALLOWED.
Shortly after the probate of his will, Dr. De Santos died on February 26, 1996.
On April 3, 1996, petitioner Octavio S. Maloles II filed a motion for intervention claiming that, as the only child of Alicia de Santos (testator’s sister) and Octavio L. Maloles, Sr., he was the sole full-blooded nephew and nearest of kin of Dr. De Santos. He likewise alleged that he was a creditor of the testator. Petitioner thus prayed for the reconsideration of the order allowing the will and the issuance of letters of administration in his name. MisÓ spped
On the other hand, private respondent Pacita de los Reyes Phillips, the designated executrix of the will, filed a motion for the issuance of letters testamentary with Branch 61. Later, however, private respondent moved to withdraw her motion. This was granted, while petitioner was required to file a memorandum of authorities in support of his claim that said court (Branch 61) still had jurisdiction to allow his intervention.
Petitioner filed his memorandum of authorities on May 13, 1996. On the other hand, private respondent, who earlier withdrew her motion for the issuance of letters testamentary in Branch 61, refiled a petition for the same purpose with the Regional Trial Court, Makati, which was docketed as Sp. Proc. No. M-4343 and assigned to Branch 65.
Upon private respondent’s motion, Judge Salvador Abad Santos of Branch 65 issued an order, dated June 28, 1996, appointing her as special administrator of Dr. De Santos’s estate.
On July 29, 1996, petitioner sought to intervene in Sp. Proc. No. M-4343 and to set aside the appointment of private respondent as special administrator. He reiterated that he was the sole and full blooded nephew and nearest of kin of the testator; that he came to know of the existence of Sp. Proc. No. M-4343 only by accident; that the probate proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. M-4223 before Branch 61 of the same court was still pending; that private respondent misdeclared the true worth of the testator’s estate; that private respondent was not fit to be the special administrator of the estate; and that petitioner should be given letters of administration for the estate of Dr. De Santos.
On August 28, 1996, Judge Abad Santos ordered the transfer of Sp. Proc. No. M-4343 to Branch 61, on the ground that "[it] is related to the case before Judge Gorospe of RTC Branch 61 . . ."
It appears, however, that in Sp. Proc. No. M-4223, Judge Gorospe had denied on August 26, 1996 petitioner’s motion for intervention. Petitioner brought this matter to the Court of Appeals which, in a decision promulgated on February 13, 1998, upheld the denial of petitioner’s motion for intervention.
Meanwhile, Judge Gorospe issued an order, dated September 4, 1996, returning the records of Sp. Proc. No. M-4343 to Branch 65 on the ground that there was a pending case involving the Estate of Decedent Arturo de Santos pending before said court. The order reads: Sppedâ
Acting on the ORDER dated 28 August 1996 of Branch 65, this Court, transferring this case to this Branch 61 on the ground that this case is related with a case before this Court, let this case be returned to Branch 65 with the information that there is no related case involving the ESTATE OF DECEDENT ARTURO DE SANTOS pending before this Branch.
There is, however, a case filed by ARTURO DE SANTOS, as petitioner under Rule 76 of the Rules of Court for the Allowance of his will during his lifetime docketed as SP. PROC. NO. M-4223 which was already decided on 16 February 1996 and has become final.
It is noted on records of Case No. M-4223 that after it became final, herein Petitioner Pacita de los Reyes Phillips filed a MOTION FOR THE ISSUANCE OF LETTERS TESTAMENTARY, which was subsequently withdrawn after this Court, during the hearing, already ruled that the motion could not be admitted as the subject matter involves a separate case under Rule 78 of the Rules of Court, and movant withdrew her motion and filed this case (No. 4343).
Octavio de Santos Maloles [II] filed a MOTION FOR INTERVENTION before Case No. M-4223 and this motion was already DENIED in the order (Branch 61) of 26 August 1996 likewise for the same grounds that the matter is for a separate case to be filed under Rule 78 of the Rules of Court and cannot be included in this case filed under Rule 76 of the Rules of Court.
It is further noted that it is a matter of policy that consolidation of cases must be approved by the Presiding Judges of the affected Branches.
Initially, in his decision dated September 23, 1996, Judge Abad Santos appeared firm in his position that " . . . it would be improper for (Branch 65) to hear and resolve the petition (Sp. Proc. No. M-4343)," considering that the probate proceedings were commenced with Branch 61. He thus ordered the transfer of the records back to the latter branch. However, he later recalled his decision and took cognizance of the case "to expedite the proceedings." Thus, in his Order, dated October 21, 1996, he stated:
Considering the refusal of the Hon. Fernando V. Gorospe, Jr. of Branch 61 to continue hearing this case notwithstanding the fact that said branch began the probate proceedings of the estate of the deceased and must therefore continue to exercise its jurisdiction to the exclusion of all others, until the entire estate of the testator had been partitioned and distributed as per Order dated 23 September 1996, this branch (Regional Trial Court Branch 65) shall take cognizance of the petition if only to expedite the proceedings, and under the concept that the Regional Trial Court of Makati City is but one court. Joä spped
Furnish a copy of this order to the Office of the Chief justice and the Office of the Court Administrator, of the Supreme Court; the Hon. Fernando V. Gorospe, Jr.; Pacita De Los Reyes Phillips, Petitioner; and Octavio de Santos Maloles, Intervenor.
On November 4, 1996, Judge Abad Santos granted petitioner’s motion for intervention. Private respondent moved for a reconsideration but her motion was denied by the trial court. She then filed a petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals which, on February 26, 1997, rendered a decision setting aside the trial court’s order on the ground that petitioner had not shown any right or interest to intervene in Sp. Proc. No. M-4343.
Hence, these petitions which raise the following issues:
1. Whether or not the Honorable Regional Trial Court - Makati, Branch 61 has lost jurisdiction to proceed with the probate proceedings upon its issuance of an order allowing the will of Dr. Arturo de Santos
2. Whether or not the Honorable (Regional Trial Court - Makati, Branch 65) acquired jurisdiction over the petition for issuance of letters testamentary filed by (private) respondent.
3. Whether or not the petitioner, being a creditor of the late Dr. Arturo de Santos, has a right to intervene and oppose the petition for issuance of letters testamentary filed by the respondent.
4. Whether or not (private) respondent is guilty of forum shopping in filing her petition for issuance of letters testamentary with the Regional Trial Court - Makati, Branch 65 knowing fully well that the probate proceedings involving the same testate estate of the decedent is still pending with the Regional Trial Court - Makati, Branch 61. Sppedä jo
First. Petitioner contends that the probate proceedings in Branch 61 of RTC-Makati did not terminate upon the issuance of the order allowing the will of Dr. De Santos. Citing the cases of Santiesteban v. Santiesteban and Tagle v. Manalo, he argues that the proceedings must continue until the estate is fully distributed to the lawful heirs, devisees, and legatees of the testator, pursuant to Rule 73, §1 of the Rules of Court. Consequently, petitioner contends that Branch 65 could not lawfully act upon private respondent’s petition for issuance of letters testamentary.
The contention has no merit.
In cases for the probate of wills, it is well-settled that the authority of the court is limited to ascertaining the extrinsic validity of the will, i.e., whether the testator, being of sound mind, freely executed the will in accordance with the formalities prescribed by law.
Ordinarily, probate proceedings are instituted only after the death of the testator, so much so that, after approving and allowing the will, the court proceeds to issue letters testamentary and settle the estate of the testator. The cases cited by petitioner are of such nature. In fact, in most jurisdictions, courts cannot entertain a petition for probate of the will of a living testator under the principle of ambulatory nature of wills.
However, Art. 838 of the Civil Code authorizes the filing of a petition for probate of the will filed by the testator himself. It provides:
Civil Code, Art. 838. No will shall pass either real or personal property unless it is proved and allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court.
The testator himself may, during his lifetime, petition the court having jurisdiction for the allowance of his will. In such case, the pertinent provisions of the Rules of Court for the allowance of wills after the testator’s death shall govern. Miso
The Supreme Court shall formulate such additional Rules of Court as may be necessary for the allowance of wills on petition of the testator.
Subject to the right of appeal, the allowance of the will, either during the lifetime of the testator or after his death, shall be conclusive as to its due execution.
Rule 76, §1 likewise provides:
Sec. 1 Who may petition for the allowance of will. - Any executor, devisee, or legatee named in a will, or any other person interested in the estate, may, at any time after the death of the testator, petition the court having jurisdiction to have the will allowed, whether the same be in his possession or not, or is lost or destroyed.
The testator himself may, during his lifetime, petition in the court for the allowance of his will.
The rationale for allowing the probate of wills during the lifetime of testator has been explained by the Code Commission thus:
Most of the cases that reach the courts involve either the testamentary capacity of the testator or the formalities adopted in the execution of wills. There are relatively few cases concerning the intrinsic validity of testamentary dispositions. It is far easier for the courts to determine the mental condition of a testator during his lifetime than after his death. Fraud, intimidation and undue influence are minimized. Furthermore, if a will does not comply with the requirements prescribed by law, the same may be corrected at once. The probate during the testator’s life, therefore, will lessen the number of contest upon wills. Once a will is probated during the lifetime of the testator, the only questions that may remain for the courts to decide after the testator’s death will refer to the intrinsic validity of the testamentary dispositions. It is possible, of course, that even when the testator himself asks for the allowance of the will, he may be acting under duress or undue influence, but these are rare cases.
After a will has been probated during the lifetime of the testator, it does not necessarily mean that he cannot alter or revoke the same before his death. Should he make a new will, it would also be allowable on his petition, and if he should die before he has had a chance to present such petition, the ordinary probate proceeding after the testator’s death would be in order.
Thus, after the allowance of the will of Dr. De Santos on February 16, 1996, there was nothing else for Branch 61 to do except to issue a certificate of allowance of the will pursuant to Rule 73, §12 of the Rules of Court. There is, therefore, no basis for the ruling of Judge Abad Santos of Branch 65 of RTC-Makati that -Nexâ old
Branch 61 of the Regional Trial Court of Makati having begun the probate proceedings of the estate of the deceased, it continues and shall continue to exercise said jurisdiction to the exclusion of all others. It should be noted that probate proceedings do not cease upon the allowance or disallowance of a will but continues up to such time that the entire estate of the testator had been partitioned and distributed.
The fact that the will was allowed during the lifetime of the testator meant merely that the partition and distribution of the estate was to be suspended until the latter’s death. In other words, the petitioner, instead of filing a new petition for the issuance of letters testamentary, should have simply filed a manifestation for the same purpose in the probate court.
Petitioner, who defends the order of Branch 65 allowing him to intervene, cites Rule 73, §1 which states:
Where estate of deceased persons settled. - If the decedent is an inhabitant of the Philippines at the time of his death, whether a citizen or an alien, his will shall be proved, or letters of administration granted, and his estate settled, in the Court of First Instance in the province in which he resides at the time of his death, and if he is an inhabitant of a foreign country, the Court of First Instance of any province in which he had estate. The court first taking cognizance of the settlement of the estate of a decedent, shall exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of all other courts. The jurisdiction assumed by a court, so far as it depends on the place of residence of the decedent, or of the location of his estate, shall not be contested in a suit or proceeding, except in an appeal from that court, in the original case, or when the want of jurisdiction appears on the record.
The above rule, however, actually provides for the venue of actions for the settlement of the estate of deceased persons. In Garcia Fule v. Court of Appeals, it was held:
The aforequoted Section 1, Rule 73 (formerly Rule 75, Section 1), specifically the clause "so far as it depends on the place of residence of the decedent, or of the location of the state," is in reality a matter of venue, as the caption of the Rule indicates: "Settlement of Estate of Deceased Persons. Venue and Processes." It could not have been intended to define the jurisdiction over the subject matter, because such legal provision is contained in a law of procedure dealing merely with procedural matters. Procedure is one thing, jurisdiction over the subject matter is another. The power or authority of the court over the subject matter "existed was fixed before procedure in a given cause began." That power or authority is not altered or changed by procedure, which simply directs the manner in which the power or authority shall be fully and justly exercised. There are cases though that if the power is not exercised conformably with the provisions of the procedural law, purely, the court attempting to exercise it loses the power to exercise it legally. However, this does not amount to a loss of jurisdiction over the subject matter. Rather, it means that the court may thereby lose jurisdiction over the person or that the judgment may thereby be rendered defective for lack of something essential to sustain it. The appearance of this provision in the procedural law at once raises a strong presumption that it has nothing to do with the jurisdiction of the court over the subject matter. In plain words, it is just a matter of method, of convenience to the parties. Maniâ kx
Indeed, the jurisdiction over probate proceedings and settlement of estates with approximate value of over P100,000.00 (outside Metro Manila) or P200,000.00 (in Metro Manila) belongs to the regional trial courts under B.P. Blg. 129, as amended. The different branches comprising each court in one judicial region do not possess jurisdictions independent of and incompatible with each other.
It is noteworthy that, although Rule 73, §1 applies insofar as the venue of the petition for probate of the will of Dr. De Santos is concerned, it does not bar other branches of the same court from taking cognizance of the settlement of the estate of the testator after his death. As held in the leading case of Bacalso v. Ramolote:
The various branches of the Court of First Instance of Cebu under the Fourteenth Judicial District, are a coordinate and co-equal courts, and the totality of which is only one Court of First Instance. The jurisdiction is vested in the court, not in the judges. And when a case is filed in one branch, jurisdiction over the case does not attach to the branch or judge alone, to the exclusion of the other branches. Trial may be held or proceedings continue by and before another branch or judge. It is for this reason that Section 57 of the Judiciary Act expressly grants to the Secretary of Justice, the administrative right or power to apportion the cases among the different branches, both for the convenience of the parties and for the coordination of the work by the different branches of the same court. The apportionment and distribution of cases does not involve a grant or limitation of jurisdiction, the jurisdiction attaches and continues to be vested in the Court of First Instance of the province, and the trials may be held by any branch or judge of the court.
Necessarily, therefore, Branch 65 of the RTC of Makati City has jurisdiction over Sp. Proc. No. M-4343.
Second. Petitioner claims the right to intervene in and oppose the petition for issuance of letters testamentary filed by private respondent. He argues that, as the nearest next of kin and creditor of the testator, his interest in the matter is material and direct. In ruling that petitioner has no right to intervene in the proceedings before Branch 65 of RTC-Makati City, the Court of Appeals held:
The private respondent herein is not an heir or legatee under the will of the decedent Arturo de Santos. Neither is he a compulsory heir of the latter. As the only and nearest collateral relative of the decedent, he can inherit from the latter only in case of intestacy. Since the decedent has left a will which has already been probated and disposes of all his properties the private respondent can inherit only if the said will is annulled. His interest in the decedent’s estate is, therefore, not direct or immediate. Maniksâ
His claim to being a creditor of the estate is a belated one, having been raised for the first time only in his reply to the opposition to his motion to intervene, and, as far as the records show, not supported by evidence.
. . . . [T]he opposition must come from one with a direct interest in the estate or the will, and the private respondent has none. Moreover, the ground cited in the private respondent’s opposition, that the petitioner has deliberately misdeclared the truth worth and value of the estate, is not relevant to the question of her competency to act as executor. Section 2, Rule 76 of the Rules of Court requires only an allegation of the probable value and character of the property of the estate. The true value can be determined later on in the course of the settlement of the estate.
Rule 79, §1 provides:
Opposition to issuance of letters testamentary. Simultaneous petition for administration. - Any person interested in a will may state in writing the grounds why letters testamentary should not issue to the persons named therein as executors, or any of them, and the court, after hearing upon notice, shall pass upon the sufficiency of such grounds. A petition may, at the same time, be filed for letters of administration with the will annexed.
Under this provision, it has been held that an "interested person" is one who would be benefited by the estate, such as an heir, or one who has a claim against the estate, such as a creditor, and whose interest is material and direct, not merely incidental or contingent.
Even if petitioner is the nearest next of kin of Dr. De Santos, he cannot be considered an "heir" of the testator. It is a fundamental rule of testamentary succession that one who has no compulsory or forced heirs may dispose of his entire estate by will. Thus, Art. 842 of the Civil Code provides:
One who has no compulsory heirs may dispose by will of all his estate or any part of it in favor of any person having capacity to succeed. Manikanä
One who has compulsory heirs may dispose of his estate provided he does not contravene the provisions of this Code with regard to the legitimate of said heirs.
Compulsory heirs are limited to the testator’s -
(1) Legitimate children and descendants, with respect to their legitimate parents and ascendants;
(2) In default of the foregoing, legitimate parents and ascendants, with respect to their legitimate children and descendants;
(3) The widow or widower;
(4) Acknowledged natural children, and natural children by legal fiction;
(5) Other illegitimate children referred to in Article 287 of the Civil Code.
Petitioner, as nephew of the testator, is not a compulsory heir who may have been preterited in the testator’s will.
Nor does he have any right to intervene in the settlement proceedings based on his allegation that he is a creditor of the deceased. Since the testator instituted or named an executor in his will, it is incumbent upon the Court to respect the desires of the testator. As we stated in Ozaeta v. Pecson:
The choice of his executor is a precious prerogative of a testator, a necessary concomitant of his right to dispose of his property in the manner he wishes. It is natural that the testator should desire to appoint one of his confidence, one who can be trusted to carry out his wishes in the disposal of his estate. The curtailment of this right may be considered a curtailment of the right to dispose.
Only if the appointed executor is incompetent, refuses the trust, or fails to give bond may the court appoint other persons to administer the estate. None of these circumstances is present in this case.
Third. Petitioner contends that private respondent is guilty of forum shopping when she filed the petition for issuance of letters testamentary (Sp. Proc. No. M-4343) while the probate proceedings (Sp. Proc. No. M-4223) were still pending. According to petitioner, there is identity of parties, rights asserted, and reliefs prayed for in the two actions which are founded on the same facts, and a judgment in either will result in res judicata in the other.
This contention has no merit. As stated earlier, the petition for probate was filed by Dr. De Santos, the testator, solely for the purpose of authenticating his will. Upon the allowance of his will, the proceedings were terminated. Oldmisâ o
On the other hand, the petition for issuance of letters testamentary was filed by private respondent, as executor of the estate of Dr. De Santos, for the purpose of securing authority from the Court to administer the estate and put into effect the will of the testator. The estate settlement proceedings commenced by the filing of the petition terminates upon the distribution and delivery of the legacies and devises to the persons named in the will. Clearly, there is no identity between the two petitions, nor was the latter filed during the pendency of the former. There was, consequently, no forum shopping.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the decisions of the Court of Appeals are hereby AFFIRMED.
Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
G.R. No. 129505, Rollo, pp. 107-109.
Id., at 110-111.
RTC order, dated April 26, 1996. G.R. No. 133359, Rollo, pp. 54-55.
Per Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico and concurred in by Justices Delilah Vidalon-Magtolis (Acting Chairman) and Artemio G. Tuquero. This is the subject of G.R. No. 133359.
G.R No. 129505, Rollo, p. 83.
Per Justice Hector L. Hofileña and concurred in by Justices Jainal D. Rasul (Chairman) and Artemio G. Tuquero. This is the subject of G.R. No. 129505.
68 Phil. 367 (1939).
105 Phil. 1123 (1959).
Pastor, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 207 Phil. 758 (1983); Montañano v. Suesa, 14 Phil. 676 (1909).
79 Am Jur 2d, Wills, §851: It seems clear that in the absence of statute expressly conferring such jurisdiction, a court does not have the power to entertain a suit for the establishment or annulment of the will of a living testator. The ambulatory nature of a will, and the absence of parties in interest, which results from the rule that a living person has neither heirs nor legatees, render impossible the assumption that a court has inherent power to determine the validity of a will prior to the death of the maker. It has been held that a statute providing for the probate of a will before the death of the testator, leaving him at liberty to alter or revoke it, or to escape the effect of any action under it by removal from the jurisdiction, is alleged and void on the ground that such a proceeding is not within the judicial power.
Report of The Code Commission, pp. 53-54, quoted in 3 A. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines 149 (1992).
G.R. No. 129505, Rollo, p. 83.
74 SCRA 189, 198 (1976).
Ella v. Salonga, 146 Phil. 91 (1970).
128 Phil. 559, 564-565 (1967).
G.R. No. 129505, Rollo, pp. 38-39.
Teotico v. Del Val Chan, 121 Phil. 392 (1965).
Civil Code, Art. 887.
93 Phil. 416, 420 (1953).
Rules of Court, Rule 78, §6.
HEIRS OF ROSENDO LASAM, G.R. No. 168156
Represented by Rogelio Lasam
and Atty. Edward P. Llonillo,
PANGANIBAN, C. J., Chairperson,
- versus - CALLEJO, SR., and
VICENTA UMENGAN, Promulgated:
December 6, 2006
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
Before the Court is the petition for review on certiorari filed by the Heirs of Rosendo Lasam, represented by Rogelio M. Lasam and Atty. Edward P. Llonillo, seeking the reversal of the Decision dated February 16, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 80032. The assailed decision reversed and set aside the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tuguegarao City, Cagayan and dismissed, for lack of merit, the complaint for unlawful detainer file by the said heirs against respondent Vicenta Umengan.
The RTC decision affirmed that of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of the same city, Branch III, which had rendered judgment in favor of the heirs of Rosendo Lasam and directed the ejectment of respondent Vicenta Umengan from the lot subject of litigation.
The present petition likewise seeks the reversal of the CA Resolution dated May 17, 2005 denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the heirs of Rosendo Lasam.
As culled from the records, the backdrop of the present case is as follows –
The lot subject of the unlawful detainer case is situated in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. It is the eastern half portion of Lot No. 5427 and Lot No. 990. The first lot, Lot No. 5427 containing an area of 1,037 square meters, is covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 196. The second lot, Lot No. 990 containing an area of 118 sq m, is covered by OCT No. 1032. These lots are registered in the names of the original owners, spouses Pedro Cuntapay and Leona Bunagan.
In an instrument denominated as Deed of Confirmation and acknowledged before a notary public on June 14, 1979, the heirs of the said spouses conveyed the ownership of Lots Nos. 990 and 5427 in favor of their two children, Irene Cuntapay and Isabel Cuntapay. In another instrument entitled Partition Agreement and acknowledged before a notary public on December 28, 1979, it was agreed that the eastern half portion (subject lot) of Lots Nos. 990 and 5427 shall belong to the heirs of Isabel Cuntapay. On the other hand, the remaining portion thereof (the west portion) shall belong to the heirs of Irene Cuntapay. The subject lot (eastern half portion) has an area of 554 sq m.
Isabel Cuntapay had four children by her first husband, Domingo Turingan, namely: Abdon, Sado (deceased), Rufo and Maria. When Domingo Turingan passed away, Isabel Cuntapay remarried Mariano Lasam. She had two other children by him, namely: Trinidad and Rosendo.
Sometime in January 2001, the heirs of Rosendo Lasam (son of Isabel Cuntapay by her second husband) filed with the MTCC a complaint for unlawful detainer against Vicenta Umengan, who was then occupying the subject lot. Vicenta Umengan is the daughter of Abdon Turingan (son of Isabel Cuntapay by her first husband).
In their complaint, the heirs of Rosendo Lasam alleged that they are the owners of the subject lot, having inherited it from their father. Rosendo Lasam was allegedly the sole heir of the deceased Pedro Cuntapay through Isabel Cuntapay. During his lifetime, Rosendo Lasam allegedly temporarily allowed Vicenta Umengan to occupy the subject lot sometime in 1955. The latter and her husband allegedly promised that they would vacate the subject lot upon demand. However, despite written notice and demand by the heirs of Rosendo Lasam, Vicenta Umengan allegedly unlawfully refused to vacate the subject lot and continued to possess the same. Accordingly, the heirs of Rosendo Lasam were constrained to institute the action for ejectment.
In her Answer with Counterclaim, Vicenta Umengan specifically denied the material allegations in the complaint. She countered that when Isabel Cuntapay passed away, the subject lot was inherited by her six children by her first and second marriages through intestate succession. Each of the six children allegedly had a pro indiviso share of 1/6 of the subject lot.
It was further alleged by Vicenta Umengan that her father, Abdon Turingan, purchased the respective 1/6 shares in the subject lot of his siblings Maria and Sado. These conveyances were allegedly evidenced by the Deed of Sale dated March 3, 1975, appearing as Doc. No. 88, Page No. 36, Book No. XIV, series of 1975 of the notarial book of Atty. Pedro Lagui.
Prior thereto, Rufo already sold his 1/6 share in the subject lot to Vicenta Umengan and her husband as evidenced by the Deed of Sale dated June 14, 1961, appearing as Doc. No. 539, Page No. 41, Book No. V, series of 1961 of the notarial book of Atty. Pedro Lagui. Also on June 14, 1961, Abdon donated his 1/6 share in the subject lot to her daughter Vicenta Umengan as evidenced by the Deed of Donation appearing as Doc. No. 538, Page No. 41, Book No. V, series of 1961 of the notarial book of the same notary public.
According to Vicenta Umengan, the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her second husband (Rosendo and Trinidad Lasam) own only 2/6 portion of the subject lot. She thus prayed that the complaint for ejectment be dismissed and that the heirs of Rosendo Lasam be ordered to pay her damages.
The MTCC rendered judgment in favor of the heirs of Rosendo Lasam and directed the ejectment of Vicenta Umengan. In so ruling, the MTCC gave credence to the newly discovered last will and testament (entitled Testamento Abierto) purportedly executed by Isabel Cuntapay where she bequeathed the subject lot to her son, Rosendo Lasam, thus:
x x x my share 1/5th (one-fifth) of the Cuntapay heirs, bordered on the North by Sr. Elia Canapi; to the South, by Calle Aguinaldo; to the East, by Calle P. Burgos and the West, by the late Don Luis Alonso; on the property which is my share stands a house of light materials where I presently reside; this 1/5th (one-fifth) share of my inheritance from the Cuntapays I leave to my son Rosendo Lasam and also the aforementioned house of light material x x x
The MTCC reasoned that the heirs of Rosendo Lasam anchored their claim over the subject lot on the last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay while Vicenta Umengan hinged hers on intestate succession and legal conveyances. Citing jurisprudence and Article 1080 of the Civil Code, the MTCC opined that testacy was favored and that intestacy should be avoided and the wishes of the testator should prevail. It observed that the last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay was not yet probated as required by law; nonetheless, the institution of a probate proceeding was not barred by prescription.
With the finding that the subject lot was already bequeathed by Isabel Cuntapay to Rosendo Lasam, the MTCC held that the siblings Abdon, Sado, Rufo and Maria Turingan no longer had any share therein. Consequently, they could not convey to Vicenta Umengan what they did not own. On the issue then of who was entitled to possession of the subject lot, the MTCC ruled in favor of the heirs of Rosendo Lasam as it found that Vicenta Umengan’s possession thereof was by mere tolerance. The dispositive portion of the MTCC decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing considerations, this Court Resolve[d] to order the EJECTMENT of VICENTA T. UMENGAN and in her place INSTITUTE THE HEIRS OF ROSENDO LASAM.
It is further ordered the defendant shall pay the Heirs of Rosendo Lasam the sum of P500.00 pesos representing the monthly rental of the land from August 2000 to the time this case shall have been terminated.
Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiffs the amount of
P20,000.00 attorney’s fees plus cost of this litigation.
On appeal, the RTC affirmed in toto the decision of the MTCC. The RTC echoed the reasoning of the MTCC that the testamentary disposition of the property of Isabel Cuntapay should be respected, and that the heirs of Rosendo Lasam have a better right to possess the subject lot.
Undaunted, Vicenta Umengan filed an appeal with the CA. She argued that the MTCC had no jurisdiction over the case as it involved the recovery of ownership of the subject lot, not merely recovery of possession or unlawful detainer. She also assailed the RTC’s and the MTCC’s holding that the purported Testamento Abierto of Isabel Cuntapay prevails over Vicenta Umengan’s muniments of title and, consequently, the heirs of Rosendo Lasam have a better right to the subject lot than Vicenta Umengan.
In the assailed Decision dated February 16, 2005, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of the RTC. The appellate court preliminarily upheld the jurisdiction of the MTCC over the subject matter as it found that the allegations in the complaint made out a case for unlawful detainer. The heirs of Rosendo Lasam in their complaint, according to the CA, only sought for Vicenta Umengan to vacate and surrender possession of the subject lot. The CA also rejected the contention of the heirs of Rosendo Lasam that the issue of ownership of the subject lot had already been settled in another case, Civil Case No. 4917, before RTC (Branch 3) of Tuguegarao City. The CA stated that the trial court’s order dismissing the said case was not a “judgment on the merits” as to constitute res judicata.
However, the CA declared that the RTC, as well as the MTCC, erred in ruling that, by virtue of the purported last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay, the heirs of Rosendo Lasam have a better right to the subject lot over Vicenta Umengan. The CA explained that the said last will and testament did not comply with the formal requirements of the law on wills.
Specifically, the CA found that the pages of the purported last will and testament were not numbered in accordance with the law. Neither did it contain the requisite attestation clause. Isabel Cuntapay as testator and the witnesses to the will did not affix their respective signatures on the second page thereof. The said instrument was likewise not acknowledged before a notary public by the testator and the witnesses. The CA even raised doubts as to its authenticity, noting that while Isabel Cuntapay died in 1947 and the heirs of Rosendo Lasam claimed that they discovered the same only in 1997, a date – May 19, 1956 – appears on the last page of the purported will. The CA opined that if this was the date of execution, then the will was obviously spurious. On the other hand, if this was the date of its discovery, then the CA expressed bafflement as to why the heirs of Rosendo Lasam, through their mother, declared in the Partition Agreement dated December 28, 1979 that Isabel Cuntapay died intestate.
It was observed by the CA that as against these infirmities in the claim of the heirs of Rosendo Lasam, Vicenta Umengan presented a Deed of Sale and a Deed of Donation to justify her possession of the subject lot. The CA noted that she has also possessed the subject property since 1955. Such prior possession, the CA held, gave Vicente Umengan the right to remain in the subject lot until a person with a better right lawfully ejects her. The heirs of Rosendo Lasam do not have such a better right. The CA stressed that the ruling on the issue of physical possession does not affect the title to the subject lot nor constitute a binding and conclusive adjudication on the merits on the issue of ownership. The parties are not precluded from filing the appropriate action to directly contest the ownership of or the title to the subject lot.
The decretal portion of the assailed decision of the CA reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is GRANTED. The August 29, 2003 decision of the RTC, Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan in Civil Case No. 5924 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Private respondents’ complaint for unlawful detainer against petitioner is dismissed for lack of merit.
The heirs of Rosendo Lasam sought the reconsideration thereof but their motion was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated May 17, 2005.
The heirs of Rosendo Lasam (petitioners) now come to the Court alleging that the CA committed reversible error in setting aside the decision of the RTC, which had affirmed that of the MTCC, and dismissing their complaint for unlawful detainer against respondent Vicenta Umengan.
Petitioners argue that the CA erred when it held, on one hand, that the MTCC had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint as the allegations therein make out a case for unlawful detainer but, on the other hand, proceeded to discuss the validity of the last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay.
Petitioners insist that respondent is holding the subject lot by mere tolerance and that they, as the heirs of Rosendo Lasam who was the rightful owner of the subject lot, have a better right thereto. It was allegedly error for the CA to declare the last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay as null and void for its non-compliance with the formal requisites of the law on wills. The said matter cannot be resolved in an unlawful detainer case, which only involves the issue of material or physical possession of the disputed property. In any case, they maintain that the said will complied with the formal requirements of the law.
It was allegedly also erroneous for the CA to consider in respondent’s favor the deed of sale and deed of donation covering portions of the subject lot, when these documents had already been passed upon by the RTC (Branch 3) of Tuguegarao City in Civil Case No. 4917 when it dismissed the respondent’s complaint for partition of the subject lot. The said order allegedly constituted res judicata and may no longer be reviewed by the CA.
Petitioners emphasize that in an unlawful detainer case, the only issue to be resolved is who among the parties is entitled to the physical or material possession of the property in dispute. On this point, the MTCC held (and the same was affirmed by the RTC) that petitioners have a better right since the “merely tolerated” possession of the respondent had already expired upon the petitioners’ formal demand on her to vacate. In support of this claim, they point to the affidavit of Heliodoro Turingan, full brother of the respondent, attesting that the latter’s possession of the subject lot was by mere tolerance of Rosendo Lasam who inherited the same from Isabel Cuntapay.
According to petitioners, respondent’s predecessors-in-interest from whom she derived her claim over the subject lot by donation and sale could not have conveyed portions thereof to her, as she had claimed, because until the present, it is still covered by OCT Nos. 196 and 1032 under the names of Pedro and Leona Cuntapay. Their respective estates have not been settled up to now.
It is also the contention of petitioners that the CA should have dismissed outright respondent’s petition filed therewith for failure to comply with the technical requirements of the Rules of Court. Specifically, the petition was not allegedly properly verified, lacked statement of material dates and written explanation on why personal service was not made.
This last contention of petitioners deserves scant consideration. The technical requirements for filing an appeal are not sacrosanct. It has been held that while the requirements for perfecting an appeal must be strictly followed as they are considered indispensable interdictions against needless delays and for orderly discharge of judicial business, the law does admit of exceptions when warranted by circumstances. In the present case, the CA cannot be faulted in choosing to overlook the technical defects of respondent’s appeal. After all, technicality should not be allowed to stand in the way of equitably and completely resolving the rights and obligations of the parties.
The Court shall now resolve the substantive issues raised by petitioners.
It is well settled that in ejectment suits, the only issue for resolution is the physical or material possession of the property involved, independent of any claim of ownership by any of the party litigants. However, the issue of ownership may be provisionally ruled upon for the sole purpose of determining who is entitled to possession de facto.
In the present case, petitioners base their claim of right to possession on the theory that their father, Rosendo Lasam, was the sole owner of the subject lot by virtue of the newly discovered last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay bequeathing the same to him. Respondent is allegedly holding the subject lot by mere tolerance of Rosendo Lasam and, upon the petitioners’ formal demand on her to vacate the same, respondent’s right to possess it has expired.
On the other hand, respondent hinges her claim of possession on the legal conveyances made to her by the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first husband, namely, Maria, Rufo, Sado and Abdon. These conveyances were made through the sale and donation by the said siblings of their respective portions in the subject lot to respondent as evidenced by the pertinent deeds.
The CA correctly held that, as between the respective claims of petitioners and respondent, the latter has a better right to possess the subject lot.
As earlier stated, petitioners rely on the last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay that they had allegedly newly discovered. On the basis of this instrument, the MTCC and RTC ruled that petitioners have a better right to the possession of the subject lot because, following the law on succession, it should be respected and should prevail over intestate succession.
However, contrary to the ruling of the MTCC and RTC, the purported last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay could not properly be relied upon to establish petitioners’ right to possess the subject lot because, without having been probated, the said last will and testament could not be the source of any right.
Article 838 of the Civil Code is instructive:
Art. 838. No will shall pass either real or personal property unless it is proved and allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court.
The testator himself may, during his lifetime, petition the court having jurisdiction for the allowance of his will. In such case, the pertinent provisions of the Rules of Court for the allowance of wills after the testator’s death shall govern.
The Supreme Court shall formulate such additional Rules of Court as may be necessary for the allowance of wills on petition of the testator.
Subject to the right of appeal, the allowance of the will, either during the lifetime of the testator or after his death, shall be conclusive as to its due execution.
In Cañiza v. Court of Appeals, the Court ruled that: “[a] will is essentially ambulatory; at any time prior to the testator’s death, it may be changed or revoked; and until admitted to probate, it has no effect whatever and no right can be claimed thereunder, the law being quite explicit: ‘No will shall pass either real or personal property unless it is proved and allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court.’”
Dr. Tolentino, an eminent authority on civil law, also explained that “[b]efore any will can have force or validity it must be probated. To probate a will means to prove before some officer or tribunal, vested by law with authority for that purpose, that the instrument offered to be proved is the last will and testament of the deceased person whose testamentary act it is alleged to be, and that it has been executed, attested and published as required by law, and that the testator was of sound and disposing mind. It is a proceeding to establish the validity of the will.” Moreover, the presentation of the will for probate is mandatory and is a matter of public policy.
Following the above truisms, the MTCC and RTC, therefore, erroneously ruled that petitioners have a better right to possess the subject lot on the basis of the purported last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay, which, to date, has not been probated. Stated in another manner, Isabel Cuntapay’s last will and testament, which has not been probated, has no effect whatever and petitioners cannot claim any right thereunder.
Hence, the CA correctly held that, as against petitioners’ claim, respondent has shown a better right of possession over the subject lot as evidenced by the deeds of conveyances executed in her favor by the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage.
Contrary to the claim of petitioners, the dismissal of respondent’s action for partition in Civil Case No. 4917 before the RTC (Branch 3) of Tuguegarao City does not constitute res judicata on the matter of the validity of the said conveyances or even as to the issue of the ownership of the subject lot. The order dismissing respondent’s action for partition in Civil Case No. 4917 stated thus:
For resolution is a motion to dismiss based on defendants’ [referring to the petitioners herein] affirmative defenses consisting inter alia in the discovery of a last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay, the original owner of the land in dispute.
x x x
It appears, however, that the last will and testament of the late Isabel Cuntapay has not yet been allowed in probate, hence, there is an imperative need to petition the court for the allowance of said will to determine once and for all the proper legitimes of legatees and devisees before any partition of the property may be judicially adjudicated.
It is an elementary rule in law that testate proceedings take precedence over any other action especially where the will evinces the intent of the testator to dispose of his whole estate.
With the discovery of the will of the late Isabel Cuntapay in favor of the defendants, the Court can order the filing of a petition for the probate of the same by the interested party.
WHEREFORE, in light of the foregoing considerations, let the above-entitled case be as it is hereby DISMISSED.
For there to be res judicata, the following elements must be present: (1) finality of the former judgment; (2) the court which rendered it had jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) it must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be, between the first and second actions, identity of parties, subject matter and causes of action. The third requisite, i.e., that the former judgment must be a judgment on the merits, is not present between the action for partition and the complaint a quo for unlawful detainer. As aptly observed by the CA:
Our reading of the Orders (dated June 16, 1997 and October 13, 1997) in Civil Case No. 4917 reveals that the RTC, Branch 3, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, dismissed the complaint for partition because of the discovery of the alleged last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay. The court did not declare respondents [referring to the petitioners herein] the owners of the disputed property. It simply ordered them to petition the court for the allowance of the will to determine the proper legitimes of the heirs prior to any partition. Instead of filing the appropriate petition for the probate of Isabel Cuntapay’s will, the respondents filed the present complaint for unlawful detainer. Viewed from this perspective, we have no doubt that the court’s Orders cited by the respondents are not “judgments on the merits” that would result in the application of the principle of res judicata. Where the trial court merely refrained from proceeding with the case and granted the motion to dismiss with some clarification without conducting a trial on the merits, there is no res judicata.
Further, it is not quite correct for petitioners to contend that the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage could not have conveyed portions of the subject lot to respondent, as she had claimed, because until the present, it is still covered by OCT Nos. 196 and 1032 under the names of Pedro and Leona Cuntapay. To recall, it was already agreed by the heirs of the said spouses in a Partition Agreement dated December 28, 1979 that the subject lot would belong to Isabel Cuntapay. The latter died leaving her six children by both marriages as heirs. Considering that her purported last will and testament has, as yet, no force and effect for not having been probated, her six children are deemed to be co-owners of the subject lot having their respective pro indiviso shares. The conveyances made by the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage of their respective pro indiviso shares in the subject lot to respondent are valid because the law recognizes the substantive right of heirs to dispose of their ideal share in the co-heirship
and/co-ownership among the heirs. The Court had expounded the principle in this wise:
This Court had the occasion to rule that there is no doubt that an heir can sell whatever right, interest, or participation he may have in the property under administration. This is a matter which comes under the jurisdiction of the probate court.
The right of an heir to dispose of the decedent’s property, even if the same is under administration, is based on the Civil Code provision stating that the possession of hereditary property is deemed transmitted to the heir without interruption and from the moment of the death of the decedent, in case the inheritance is accepted. Where there are however, two or more heirs, the whole estate of the decedent is, before its partition, owned in common by such heirs.
The Civil Code, under the provisions of co-ownership, further qualifies this right. Although it is mandated that each co-owner shall have the full ownership of his part and of the fruits and benefits pertaining thereto, and thus may alienate, assign or mortgage it, and even substitute another person in its enjoyment, the effect of the alienation or the mortgage, with respect to the co-owners, shall be limited to the portion which may be allotted to him in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership. In other words, the law does not prohibit a co-owner from selling, alienating or mortgaging his ideal share in the property held in common.
As early as 1942, this Court has recognized said right of an heir to dispose of property under administration. In the case of Teves de Jakosalem vs. Rafols, et al., it was said that the sale made by an heir of his share in an inheritance, subject to the result of the pending administration, in no wise, stands in the way of such administration. The Court then relied on the provision of the old Civil Code, Article 440 and Article 399 which are still in force as Article 533 and Article 493, respectively, in the new Civil Code. The Court also cited the words of a noted civilist, Manresa: “Upon the death of a person, each of his heirs ‘becomes the undivided owner of the whole estate left with respect to the part or portion which might be adjudicated to him, a community of ownership being thus formed among the co-owners of the estate which remains undivided.’”
Contrary to the assertion of petitioners, therefore, the conveyances made by the children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage to respondent are valid insofar as their pro indiviso shares are concerned. Moreover, the CA justifiably held that these conveyances, as evidenced by the deed of donation and deed of sale presented by respondent, coupled with the fact that she has been in possession of the subject lot since 1955, establish that respondent has a better right to possess the same as against petitioners whose claim is largely based on Isabel Cuntapay’s last will and testament which, to date, has not been probated; hence, has no force and effect and under which no right can be claimed by petitioners. Significantly, the probative value of the other evidence relied upon by petitioners to support their claim, which was the affidavit of Heliodoro Turingan, was not passed upon by the MTCC and the RTC. Their respective decisions did not even mention the same.
In conclusion, it is well to stress the CA’s admonition that –
x x x our ruling on the issue of physical possession does not affect title to the property nor constitute a binding and conclusive adjudication on the merits on the issue of ownership. The parties are not precluded from filing the appropriate action directly contesting the ownership of or the title to the property.
Likewise, it is therefore in this context that the CA’s finding on the validity of Isabel Cuntapay’s last will and testament must be considered. Such is merely a provisional ruling thereon for the sole purpose of determining who is entitled to possession de facto.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision dated February 16, 2005 and the Resolution dated May 17, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 80032 are AFFIRMED.
ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
Associate Justice Associate Justice
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Penned by Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion, with Associate Justices Eugenio S. Labitoria (retired) and Eliezer R. De Los Santos, concurring.
As quoted in the MTCC Decision dated November 21, 2001, p. 1; rollo, p. 79.
Citing Austria v. Reyes, L-23079, February 27, 1970, 31 SCRA 754; Rodriguez v. CA, 137 Phil. 371 (1969).
The provision reads in part:
ART. 1080. Should a person make a partition of his estate by an act inter vivos, or by will, such partition shall be respected , insofar as it does not prejudice the legitime of the compulsory heirs.
x x x
Rollo, p. 81.
The pertinent provisions read:
ART. 805. Every will, other than a holographic will, must be subscribed at the end thereof by the testator himself or by the testator’s name written by some other person in his presence, and by his express direction, and attested and subscribed by three or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator and of one another.
The testator or the person requested by him to write his name and the instrumental witnesses of the will, shall also sign, as aforesaid, each and every page thereof, except the last, on the left margin, and all the pages shall be numbered correlatively in letters placed on the upper part of each page.
The attestation shall state the number of pages used upon which the will is written, and the fact that the testator signed the will and every page thereof, or caused some other person to write his name, under his express direction, in the presence of the instrumental witnesses, and that the latter witnessed and signed the will and all the pages thereof in the presence of the testator and of one another.
ART. 806. Every will must be acknowledged before a notary public by the testator and the witnesses. The notary public shall not be required to retain a copy of the will, or file another with the Office of the Clerk of Court.
Rollo, pp. 61-62.
Orozco v. Court of Appeals, Fifth Division, G.R. No. 155207, April 29, 2005, 457 SCRA 700.
Id. at p. 709.
Keppel Bank Philippines, Inc. v. Adao, G.R. No. 158227, October 19, 2005, 473 SCRA 372.
335 Phil. 1107 (1997).
Id. at 1118.
TOLENTINO, III CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES, p. 151.
See, for example, Guevara v. Guevara, 74 Phil. 479 (1943); Baluyut v. Paño, 163 Phil. 81 (1976) and; Roberts v. Leonidas, 214 Phil. 30 (1984).
Rollo, pp. 123-124. Citations omitted.
Perez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 157616, July 22, 2005, 464 SCRA 89.
Rollo, p. 57. Emphasis supplied.
Acebedo v. Abesamis, G.R. No. 102380, January 18, 1993, 217 SCRA 186. Citations omitted.
Rollo, p. 61 citing Boy v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125088, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 196.
PAULA T. LLORENTE, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and ALICIA F. LLORENTE, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The case raises a conflict of laws issue.
What is before us is an appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeals modifying that of the Regional Trial Court, Camarines Sur, Branch 35, Iriga City declaring respondent Alicia F. Llorente (herinafter referred to as “Alicia”), as co-owners of whatever property she and the deceased Lorenzo N. Llorente (hereinafter referred to as “Lorenzo”) may have acquired during the twenty-five (25) years that they lived together as husband and wife.
On November 30, 1943, Lorenzo was admitted to United States citizenship and Certificate of Naturalization No. 5579816 was issued in his favor by the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.
Upon the liberation of the Philippines by the American Forces in 1945, Lorenzo was granted an accrued leave by the U. S. Navy, to visit his wife and he visited the Philippines. He discovered that his wife Paula was pregnant and was “living in” and having an adulterous relationship with his brother, Ceferino Llorente.
On December 4, 1945, Paula gave birth to a boy registered in the Office of the Registrar of Nabua as “Crisologo Llorente,” with the certificate stating that the child was not legitimate and the line for the father’s name was left blank.
Lorenzo refused to forgive Paula and live with her. In fact, on February 2, 1946, the couple drew a written agreement to the effect that (1) all the family allowances allotted by the United States Navy as part of Lorenzo’s salary and all other obligations for Paula’s daily maintenance and support would be suspended; (2) they would dissolve their marital union in accordance with judicial proceedings; (3) they would make a separate agreement regarding their conjugal property acquired during their marital life; and (4) Lorenzo would not prosecute Paula for her adulterous act since she voluntarily admitted her fault and agreed to separate from Lorenzo peacefully. The agreement was signed by both Lorenzo and Paula and was witnessed by Paula’s father and stepmother. The agreement was notarized by Notary Public Pedro Osabel.
Lorenzo returned to the United States and on November 16, 1951 filed for divorce with the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of San Diego. Paula was represented by counsel, John Riley, and actively participated in the proceedings. On November 27, 1951, the Superior Court of the State of California, for the County of San Diego found all factual allegations to be true and issued an interlocutory judgment of divorce.
In the meantime, Lorenzo returned to the Philippines.
On January 16, 1958, Lorenzo married Alicia F. Llorente in Manila. Apparently, Alicia had no knowledge of the first marriage even if they resided in the same town as Paula, who did not oppose the marriage or cohabitation.
On March 13, 1981, Lorenzo executed a Last Will and Testament. The will was notarized by Notary Public Salvador M. Occiano, duly signed by Lorenzo with attesting witnesses Francisco Hugo, Francisco Neibres and Tito Trajano. In the will, Lorenzo bequeathed all his property to Alicia and their three children, to wit:
“(1) I give and bequeath to my wife ALICIA R. FORTUNO exclusively my residential house and lot, located at San Francisco, Nabua, Camarines Sur, Philippines, including ALL the personal properties and other movables or belongings that may be found or existing therein;
“(2) I give and bequeath exclusively to my wife Alicia R. Fortuno and to my children, Raul F. Llorente, Luz F. Llorente and Beverly F. Llorente, in equal shares, all my real properties whatsoever and wheresoever located, specifically my real properties located at Barangay Aro-Aldao, Nabua, Camarines Sur; Barangay Paloyon, Nabua, Camarines Sur; Barangay Baras, Sitio Puga, Nabua, Camarines Sur; and Barangay Paloyon, Sitio Nalilidong, Nabua, Camarines Sur;
“(3) I likewise give and bequeath exclusively unto my wife Alicia R. Fortuno and unto my children, Raul F. Llorente, Luz F. Llorente and Beverly F. Llorente, in equal shares, my real properties located in Quezon City Philippines, and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 188652; and my lands in Antipolo, Rizal, Philippines, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title Nos. 124196 and 165188, both of the Registry of Deeds of the province of Rizal, Philippines;
“(4) That their respective shares in the above-mentioned properties, whether real or personal properties, shall not be disposed of, ceded, sold and conveyed to any other persons, but could only be sold, ceded, conveyed and disposed of by and among themselves;
“(5) I designate my wife ALICIA R. FORTUNO to be the sole executor of this my Last Will and Testament, and in her default or incapacity of the latter to act, any of my children in the order of age, if of age;
“(6) I hereby direct that the executor named herein or her lawful substitute should served (sic) without bond;
“(7) I hereby revoke any and all my other wills, codicils, or testamentary dispositions heretofore executed, signed, or published, by me;
“(8) It is my final wish and desire that if I die, no relatives of mine in any degree in the Llorente’s Side should ever bother and disturb in any manner whatsoever my wife Alicia R. Fortunato and my children with respect to any real or personal properties I gave and bequeathed respectively to each one of them by virtue of this Last Will and Testament.”
On December 14, 1983, Lorenzo filed with the Regional Trial Court, Iriga, Camarines Sur, a petition for the probate and allowance of his last will and testament wherein Lorenzo moved that Alicia be appointed Special Administratrix of his estate.
On September 4, 1985, Paula filed with the same court a petition for letters of administration over Lorenzo’s estate in her favor. Paula contended (1) that she was Lorenzo’s surviving spouse, (2) that the various property were acquired during their marriage, (3) that Lorenzo’s will disposed of all his property in favor of Alicia and her children, encroaching on her legitime and 1/2 share in the conjugal property.
On May 18, 1987, the Regional Trial Court issued a joint decision, thus:
“Wherefore, considering that this court has so found that the divorce decree granted to the late Lorenzo Llorente is void and inapplicable in the Philippines, therefore the marriage he contracted with Alicia Fortunato on January 16, 1958 at Manila is likewise void. This being so the petition of Alicia F. Llorente for the issuance of letters testamentary is denied. Likewise, she is not entitled to receive any share from the estate even if the will especially said so her relationship with Lorenzo having gained the status of paramour which is under Art. 739 (1).
“On the other hand, the court finds the petition of Paula Titular Llorente, meritorious, and so declares the intrinsic disposition of the will of Lorenzo Llorente dated March 13, 1981 as void and declares her entitled as conjugal partner and entitled to one-half of their conjugal properties, and as primary compulsory heir, Paula T. Llorente is also entitled to one-third of the estate and then one-third should go to the illegitimate children, Raul, Luz and Beverly, all surname (sic) Llorente, for them to partition in equal shares and also entitled to the remaining free portion in equal shares.
“Petitioner, Paula Llorente is appointed legal administrator of the estate of the deceased, Lorenzo Llorente. As such let the corresponding letters of administration issue in her favor upon her filing a bond in the amount (sic) of P100,000.00 conditioned for her to make a return to the court within three (3) months a true and complete inventory of all goods, chattels, rights, and credits, and estate which shall at any time come to her possession or to the possession of any other person for her, and from the proceeds to pay and discharge all debts, legacies and charges on the same, or such dividends thereon as shall be decreed or required by this court; to render a true and just account of her administration to the court within one (1) year, and at any other time when required by the court and to perform all orders of this court by her to be performed.
“On the other matters prayed for in respective petitions for want of evidence could not be granted.
On September 14, 1987, the trial court denied Alicia’s motion for reconsideration but modified its earlier decision, stating that Raul and Luz Llorente are not children “legitimate or otherwise” of Lorenzo since they were not legally adopted by him. Amending its decision of May 18, 1987, the trial court declared Beverly Llorente as the only illegitimate child of Lorenzo, entitling her to one-third (1/3) of the estate and one-third (1/3) of the free portion of the estate.
On July 31, 1995, the Court of Appeals promulgated its decision, affirming with modification the decision of the trial court in this wise:
“WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that Alicia is declared as co-owner of whatever properties she and the deceased may have acquired during the twenty-five (25) years of cohabitation.
We do not agree with the decision of the Court of Appeals. We remand the case to the trial court for ruling on the intrinsic validity of the will of the deceased.
The Applicable Law
The fact that the late Lorenzo N. Llorente became an American citizen long before and at the time of: (1) his divorce from Paula; (2) marriage to Alicia; (3) execution of his will; and (4) death, is duly established, admitted and undisputed.
Thus, as a rule, issues arising from these incidents are necessarily governed by foreign law.
The Civil Code clearly provides:
“Art. 15. Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.
“Art. 16. Real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the country where it is situated.
“However, intestate and testamentary succession, both with respect to the order of succession and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may be the nature of the property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found.” (emphasis ours)
While the substance of the foreign law was pleaded, the Court of Appeals did not admit the foreign law. The Court of Appeals and the trial court called to the fore the renvoi doctrine, where the case was “referred back” to the law of the decedent’s domicile, in this case, Philippine law.
We note that while the trial court stated that the law of New York was not sufficiently proven, in the same breath it made the categorical, albeit equally unproven statement that “American law follows the ‘domiciliary theory’ hence, Philippine law applies when determining the validity of Lorenzo’s will.
First, there is no such thing as one American law. The "national law" indicated in Article 16 of the Civil Code cannot possibly apply to general American law. There is no such law governing the validity of testamentary provisions in the United States. Each State of the union has its own law applicable to its citizens and in force only within the State. It can therefore refer to no other than the law of the State of which the decedent was a resident. Second, there is no showing that the application of the renvoi doctrine is called for or required by New York State law.
The trial court held that the will was intrinsically invalid since it contained dispositions in favor of Alice, who in the trial court’s opinion was a mere paramour. The trial court threw the will out, leaving Alice, and her two children, Raul and Luz, with nothing.
The Court of Appeals also disregarded the will. It declared Alice entitled to one half (1/2) of whatever property she and Lorenzo acquired during their cohabitation, applying Article 144 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.
The hasty application of Philippine law and the complete disregard of the will, already probated as duly executed in accordance with the formalities of Philippine law, is fatal, especially in light of the factual and legal circumstances here obtaining.
Validity of the Foreign Divorce
In Van Dorn v. Romillo, Jr. we held that owing to the nationality principle embodied in Article 15 of the Civil Code, only Philippine nationals are covered by the policy against absolute divorces, the same being considered contrary to our concept of public policy and morality. In the same case, the Court ruled that aliens may obtain divorces abroad, provided they are valid according to their national law.
Citing this landmark case, the Court held in Quita v. Court of Appeals, that once proven that respondent was no longer a Filipino citizen when he obtained the divorce from petitioner, the ruling in Van Dorn would become applicable and petitioner could “very well lose her right to inherit” from him.
In Pilapil v. Ibay-Somera, we recognized the divorce obtained by the respondent in his country, the Federal Republic of Germany. There, we stated that divorce and its legal effects may be recognized in the Philippines insofar as respondent is concerned in view of the nationality principle in our civil law on the status of persons.
For failing to apply these doctrines, the decision of the Court of Appeals must be reversed. We hold that the divorce obtained by Lorenzo H. Llorente from his first wife Paula was valid and recognized in this jurisdiction as a matter of comity. Now, the effects of this divorce (as to the succession to the estate of the decedent) are matters best left to the determination of the trial court.
Validity of the Will
The Civil Code provides:
“Art. 17. The forms and solemnities of contracts, wills, and other public instruments shall be governed by the laws of the country in which they are executed.
“When the acts referred to are executed before the diplomatic or consular officials of the Republic of the Philippines in a foreign country, the solemnities established by Philippine laws shall be observed in their execution.” (underscoring ours)
The clear intent of Lorenzo to bequeath his property to his second wife and children by her is glaringly shown in the will he executed. We do not wish to frustrate his wishes, since he was a foreigner, not covered by our laws on “family rights and duties, status, condition and legal capacity.”
Whether the will is intrinsically valid and who shall inherit from Lorenzo are issues best proved by foreign law which must be pleaded and proved. Whether the will was executed in accordance with the formalities required is answered by referring to Philippine law. In fact, the will was duly probated.
As a guide however, the trial court should note that whatever public policy or good customs may be involved in our system of legitimes, Congress did not intend to extend the same to the succession of foreign nationals. Congress specifically left the amount of successional rights to the decedent's national law.
Having thus ruled, we find it unnecessary to pass upon the other issues raised.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G. R. SP No. 17446 promulgated on July 31, 1995 is SET ASIDE.
In lieu thereof, the Court REVERSES the decision of the Regional Trial Court and RECOGNIZES as VALID the decree of divorce granted in favor of the deceased Lorenzo N. Llorente by the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of San Diego, made final on December 4, 1952.
Further, the Court REMANDS the cases to the court of origin for determination of the intrinsic validity of Lorenzo N. Llorente’s will and determination of the parties’ successional rights allowing proof of foreign law with instructions that the trial court shall proceed with all deliberate dispatch to settle the estate of the deceased within the framework of the Rules of Court.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Puno, Kapunan, and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.
In Spec. Proc. No. IR-755 (In the Matter of the Probate and Allowance of the Last Will and Testament of Lorenzo N. Llorente, Lorenzo N. Llorente, Petitioner) and Spec. Proc. No. IR-888 (Petition for the Grant of Letters of Administration for the Estate of Lorenzo N. Llorente, Paula T. Llorente, Petitioner), dated May 18, 1987, Judge Esteban B. Abonal, presiding.
(3) a married person, without the consent of the other spouse; xxx”, the trial court reasoned that since the divorce obtained by Lorenzo did not dissolve his first marriage with Paula, then the adoption of Raul and Luz was void, as Paula did not give her consent to it.
On August 31, 1995, petitioner also filed with this Court a verified complaint against the members of the Special Thirteenth Division, Court of Appeals, Associate Justices Justo P. Torres, Jr., Celia Lipana-Reyes + and Hector Hofilena for “gross ignorance of the law, manifest incompetence and extreme bias (Rollo, p. 15).”
Petitioner alleges (1) That the Court of Appeals lost its jurisdiction over the case when it issued the resolution denying the motion for reconsideration; (2) That Art. 144 of the Civil Case has been repealed by Arts. 253 and 147 of the Family Code and (3) That Alicia and her children not are entitled to any share in the estate of the deceased (Rollo, p. 19).
The ruling in the case of Tenchavez v. Escano (122 Phil. 752 ) that provides that “a foreign divorce between Filipino citizens sought and decreed after the effectivity of the present civil code is not entitled to recognition as valid in this jurisdiction” is NOT applicable in the case at bar as Lorenzo was no longer a Filipino citizen when he obtained the divorce.
Article 15, Civil Code provides “Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.” (Underscoring ours)
[G.R. No. 74577. December 4, 1990]
CONSOLACION VILLANUEVA, petitioner, vs. THE INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT, JESUS BERNAS and REMEDIOS O. BERNAS, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The spouses Graciano Aranas and Nicolasa Bunsa were the owners in fee simple of a parcel of land identified as Lot 13, their ownership being evidenced by Original Certificate of Title No. O-3239 issued by the Register of Deeds of Capiz on June 19, 1924. After they died, their surviving children, Modesto Aranas and Federico Aranas, adjudicated the land to themselves under a deed of extrajudicial partition executed on May 2, 1952. The southern portion, described as Lot 13-C, was thereby assigned to Modesto; the northern, to Federico.
On March 21, 1953, Modesto Aranas obtained a Torrens title in his name from the Capiz Registry of Property, numbered T-1346. He died on April 20, 1973, at the age of 81 years. His wife, Victoria Comorro, predeceased him, dying at age 70 on July 16, 1971. They had no children.
Now, it appears that Modesto was survived by two (2) illegitimate children named Dorothea Aranas Ado and Teodoro C. Aranas. These two borrowed P18,000.00 from Jesus Bernas. As security therefor they mortgaged to Bernas their father's property, Lot 13-C. In the "Loan Agreement with Real Estate Mortgage" executed between them and Bernas on October 30, 1975, they described themselves as the absolute co-owners of Lot 13-C. A relative, Raymundo Aranas, signed the agreement as a witness.
Dorothea and Teodoro failed to pay their loan. As a result, Bernas caused the extrajudicial foreclosure of the mortgage over Lot 13-C on June 29, 1977 and acquired the land at the auction sale as the highest bidder. After the foreclosure sale, Dorothea and Teodoro executed a deed of Extrajudicial Partition dated June 21, 1978, in which they adjudicated the same Lot 13-C unto themselves in equal shares pro indiviso.
On October 25, 1978 Bernas consolidated his ownership over Lot 13-C, the mortgagors having failed to redeem the same within the reglementary period, and had the latter's title (No. T-1346 in the name of Modesto Aranas) cancelled and another issued in his name, TCT No. T-15121.
About a month later, or on November 24, 1978, Consolacion Villanueva and Raymundo Aranas -- who, as aforestated, was an instrumental witness in the deed of mortgage executed by Dorothea and Teodoro Aranas on October 30, 1975 -- filed a complaint with the Regional Trial Court at Roxas City against Jesus Bernas and his spouse, Remedios Bernas. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. V-4188, and assigned to Branch 14. In their complaint, the plaintiffs prayed that the latter's title over Lot 13-C, TCT No. T-15121, be cancelled and they be declared co-owners of the land. They grounded their cause of action upon their alleged discovery on or about November 20, 1978 of two (2) wills, one executed on February 11, 1958 by Modesto Aranas, and the other, executed on October 29, 1957 by his wife, Victoria Comorro. Victoria Comorro's will allegedly bequeathed to Consolacion and Raymundo, and to Dorothea and Teodoro Aranas, in equal shares pro indiviso, all of said Victoria Comorro's "interests, rights and properties, real and personal ** as her net share from (the) conjugal partnership property with her husband, Modesto Aranas **." Modesto Aranas' will, on the other hand, bequeathed to Dorothea and Teodoro Aranas (his illegitimate children) all his interests in his conjugal partnership with Victoria "as well as his own capital property brought by him to (his) marriage with his said wife.''
At the pre-trial, the parties stipulated on certain facts, including the following:
1) that the property in question was registered before the mortgage in the name of the late Modesto Aranas, married to Victoria Comorro, (covered by) TCT No. 1346, issued on March 21, 1953;
2) that the wills above described were probated only after the filing of the case (No. V-4188);
3) that Consolacion Villanueva and Raymundo Aranas are not children of either Modesto Aranas or Victoria Comorro;
4) that the lot in question is not expressly mentioned in the will; and
5) that TCT No. 15121 exists, and was issued in favor of defendant-spouses Jesus Bernas and Remedios Bernas.
Trial ensued after which judgment was rendered adversely to the plaintiffs, Consolacion Villanueva and Raymundo Aranas. The dispositive part of the judgment reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiffs as follows:
The plaintiffs’ complaint is hereby dismissed and ordering the plaintiffs, jointly and severally, to pay the defendants the following:
1) THREE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED PESOS (P3,500.00) as attorney's fees;
2) FIVE HUNDRED PESOS (P500.00) as actual damages;
3) TEN THOUSAND PESOS (P10,000.00) as moral damages;
4) Declaring the defendants spouses Jesus Bernas and Remedios Q. Bernas as legal owners of Lot No. 13-C and including all the improvements thereon;
5) Declaring the loan agreement with real estate mortgage (Exh. '2') entered into by Dorothea Aranas Ado married to Reynaldo F. Ado and Teodoro C. Aranas and Jesus Bernas married to Remedios O. Bernas, over the lot in question executed on October 30, 1975 before Notary Public Roland D. Abalajon and the corresponding Certificate of Title No. T-15121 registered in the name of Jesus Bernas (defendants spouses) as having been executed and issued in accordance with law, are declared legal and valid;
6) For failure to prove all other counter-claim and damages, the same are hereby dismissed.
7) To pay costs of this suit.
The plaintiffs appealed to the Intermediate Appellate Court, where they succeeded only in having the award of actual and moral damages deleted, the judgment of the Regional Trial Court having been otherwise affirmed in toto.
From this judgment of the Appellate Court, Consolacion Villanueva appealed to this Court. Her co-plaintiff, Raymundo Aranas, did not.
The only question is, what right was acquired by Consolacion Villanueva over Lot 13-C and the improvements thereon standing by virtue of Victoria Camorro's last will and testament giving to her all of said Victoria's "interests, rights and properties, real and personal ** as her net share from (the) conjugal partnership property with her husband, Modesto Aranas **." She is, admittedly, not named an heiress in Modesto Aranas' will.
Certain it is that the land itself, Lot 13-C, was not "conjugal partnership property" of Victoria Comorro and her husband, Modesto Aranas. It was the latter's exclusive, private property, which he had inherited from his parents -- Graciano Aranas and Nicolasa Bunsa, the original owners of the property -- registered solely in his name, under TCT T-1346. Whether Modesto succeeded to the property prior or subsequent to his marriage to Victoria Comorro -- the record being unfortunately none too clear on the point -- is inconsequential. The property should be regarded as his own exclusively, as a matter of law. This is what Article 148 of the Civil Code clearly decrees: that to be considered as "the exclusive property of each spouse" is inter alia, "that which is brought to the marriage as his or her own," or "that which each acquires, during the marriage, by lucrative title." Thus, even if it be assumed that Modesto's acquisition by succession of Lot 13-C took place during his marriage to Victoria Comorro, the lot would nonetheless be his "exclusive property" because acquired by him, "during the marriage, by lucrative title."
Moreover, Victoria Comorro died on July 16, 1971, about two (2) years ahead of her husband, Modesto Aranas, exclusive owner of Lot 13-C, who passed away on April 20, 1973. Victoria never therefore inherited any part of Lot 13-C and hence, had nothing of Lot 13-C to bequeath by will or otherwise to Consolacion Villanueva or anybody else.
It would seem, however, that there are improvements standing on Lot 13-C, and it is to these improvements that Consolacion Villanueva's claims are directed. The question then is, whether or not the improvements are conjugal property, so that Victoria Comorro may be said to have acquired a right over them by succession, as voluntary heir of Victoria Comorro.
The Civil Code says that improvements, "whether for utility or adornment, made on the separate property of the spouses through advancements from the partnership or through the industry of either the husband or the wife, belong to the conjugal partnership," and buildings "constructed, at the expense of the partnership, during the marriage on land belonging to one of the spouses, also pertain to the partnership, but the value of the land shall be reimbursed to the spouse who owns the same." Proof, therefore, is needful of the time of the making or construction of the improvements and the source of the funds used therefor, in order to determine the character of the improvements as belonging to the conjugal partnership or to one spouse separately. No such proof was presented or proferred by Consolacion Villanueva or any one else. What is certain is that the land on which the improvements stand was the exclusive property of Modesto Aranas and that where, as here, property is registered in the name of one spouse only and there is no showing of when precisely the property was acquired, the presumption is that it belongs exclusively to said spouse. It is not therefore possible to declare the improvements to be conjugal in character.
Yet another consideration precludes relief to Consolacion Villanueva and that is, that when Lot 13-C was mortgaged to Jesus Bernas, the title was free of any lien, encumbrance or adverse claim presented by or for Consolacion Villanueva or anybody else, and that when Bernas subsequently consolidated his ownership over Lot 13-C and obtained title in his name, the Registry of Deeds contained no record of any lien, encumbrance or adverse claim affecting the property. Furthermore, Bernas' mode of acquisition of ownership over the property, i.e., by a mortgage sale, appears in all respects to be regular, untainted by any defect whatsoever. Bernas must therefore be deemed to have acquired indefeasible and clear title to Lot 13-C which cannot be defeated or negated by claims subsequently arising and of which he had no knowledge or means of knowing prior to their assertion and ventilation.
Finally, it bears stressing that the conclusion of the Intermediate Appellate Court that the evidence establishes that the property in question was the exclusive property of one spouse, not conjugal, is a factual one which, absent any satisfactory showing of palpable error or grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Appellate Court in reaching it, is not reviewable by this Court.
WHEREFORE, the judgment of the Intermediate Appellate Court subject of this appeal, being in accord with the evidence and applicable law and jurisprudence, is AFFIRMED, with costs against the petitioner.
Cruz, Gancayco, Griño-Aquino, and Medialdea, JJ., concur.
Rollo, p. 41
Id., pp. 7-10
Id., pp. 11-12
Id., p. 39
Id., pp. 39-40
Rendered on February 29, 1984 by Hon. Enrique P. Suplico, presiding over Branch XIV of the RTC at Roxas City
Id., PP. 37-38
Rendered on Feb. 12, 1986 by the Second Civil Cases Division, Camilon, J., ponente, with Pascual, Campos and Jurado, JJ., concurring (Rollo, pp. 39 et seq.)
PNB v. C.A., 153 SCRA 435 (1987)
LOURDES L. DOROTHEO, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, NILDA D. QUINTANA, for Herself and as Attorney-in-Fact of VICENTE DOROTHEO and JOSE DOROTHEO, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
May a last will and testament admitted to probate but declared intrinsically void in an order that has become final and executory still be given effect? This is the issue that arose from the following antecedents:
Private respondents were the legitimate children of Alejandro Dorotheo and Aniceta Reyes. The latter died in 1969 without her estate being settled. Alejandro died thereafter. Sometime in 1977, after Alejandro’s death, petitioner, who claims to have taken care of Alejandro before he died, filed a special proceeding for the probate of the latter’s last will and testament. In 1981, the court issued an order admitting Alejandro’s will to probate. Private respondents did not appeal from said order. In 1983, they filed a “Motion To Declare The Will Intrinsically Void.” The trial court granted the motion and issued an order, the dispositive portion of which reads:
“WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, Order is hereby issued declaring Lourdes Legaspi not the wife of the late Alejandro Dorotheo, the provisions of the last will and testament of Alejandro Dorotheo as intrinsically void, and declaring the oppositors Vicente Dorotheo, Jose Dorotheo and Nilda Dorotheo Quintana as the only heirs of the late spouses Alejandro Dorotheo and Aniceta Reyes, whose respective estates shall be liquidated and distributed according to the laws on intestacy upon payment of estate and other taxes due to the government.”
Petitioner moved for reconsideration arguing that she is entitled to some compensation since she took care of Alejandro prior to his death although she admitted that they were not married to each other. Upon denial of her motion for reconsideration, petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals, but the same was dismissed for failure to file appellant’s brief within the extended period granted. This dismissal became final and executory on February 3, 1989 and a corresponding entry of judgment was forthwith issued by the Court of Appeals on May 16, 1989. A writ of execution was issued by the lower court to implement the final and executory Order. Consequently, private respondents filed several motions including a motion to compel petitioner to surrender to them the Transfer Certificates of Titles (TCT) covering the properties of the late Alejandro. When petitioner refused to surrender the TCT’s, private respondents filed a motion for cancellation of said titles and for issuance of new titles in their names. Petitioner opposed the motion.
An Order was issued on November 29, 1990 by Judge Zain B. Angas setting aside the final and executory Order dated January 30, 1986, as well as the Order directing the issuance of the writ of execution, on the ground that the order was merely “interlocutory”, hence not final in character. The court added that the dispositive portion of the said Order even directs the distribution of the estate of the deceased spouses. Private respondents filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied in an Order dated February 1, 1991. Thus, private respondents filed a petition before the Court of Appeals, which nullified the two assailed Orders dated November 29, 1990 and February 1, 1991.
Aggrieved, petitioner instituted a petition for review arguing that the case filed by private respondents before the Court of Appeals was a petition under Rule 65 on the ground of grave abuse of discretion or lack of jurisdiction. Petitioner contends that in issuing the two assailed orders, Judge Angas cannot be said to have no jurisdiction because he was particularly designated to hear the case. Petitioner likewise assails the Order of the Court of Appeals upholding the validity of the January 30, 1986 Order which declared the intrinsic invalidity of Alejandro’s will that was earlier admitted to probate.
Petitioner also filed a motion to reinstate her as executrix of the estate of the late Alejandro and to maintain the status quo or lease of the premises thereon to third parties. Private respondents opposed the motion on the ground that petitioner has no interest in the estate since she is not the lawful wife of the late Alejandro.
The petition is without merit. A final and executory decision or order can no longer be disturbed or reopened no matter how erroneous it may be. In setting aside the January 30, 1986 Order that has attained finality, the trial court in effect nullified the entry of judgment made by the Court of Appeals. It is well settled that a lower court cannot reverse or set aside decisions or orders of a superior court, for to do so would be to negate the hierarchy of courts and nullify the essence of review. It has been ruled that a final judgment on probated will, albeit erroneous, is binding on the whole world.
It has been consistently held that if no appeal is taken in due time from a judgment or order of the trial court, the same attains finality by mere lapse of time. Thus, the order allowing the will became final and the question determined by the court in such order can no longer be raised anew, either in the same proceedings or in a different motion. The matters of due execution of the will and the capacity of the testator acquired the character of res judicata and cannot again be brought into question, all juridical questions in connection therewith being for once and forever closed. Such final order makes the will conclusive against the whole world as to its extrinsic validity and due execution.
It should be noted that probate proceedings deals generally with the extrinsic validity of the will sought to be probated, particularly on three aspects:
ð whether the will submitted is indeed, the decedent’s last will and testament;
ð compliance with the prescribed formalities for the execution of wills;
ð the testamentary capacity of the testator;
ð and the due execution of the last will and testament.
Under the Civil Code, due execution includes a determination of whether the testator was of sound and disposing mind at the time of its execution, that he had freely executed the will and was not acting under duress, fraud, menace or undue influence and that the will is genuine and not a forgery, that he was of the proper testamentary age and that he is a person not expressly prohibited by law from making a will.
The intrinsic validity is another matter and questions regarding the same may still be raised even after the will has been authenticated. Thus, it does not necessarily follow that an extrinsically valid last will and testament is always intrinsically valid. Even if the will was validly executed, if the testator provides for dispositions that deprives or impairs the lawful heirs of their legitime or rightful inheritance according to the laws on succession, the unlawful provisions/dispositions thereof cannot be given effect. This is specially so when the courts had already determined in a final and executory decision that the will is intrinsically void. Such determination having attained that character of finality is binding on this Court which will no longer be disturbed. Not that this Court finds the will to be intrinsically valid, but that a final and executory decision of which the party had the opportunity to challenge before the higher tribunals must stand and should no longer be reevaluated. Failure to avail of the remedies provided by law constitutes waiver. And if the party does not avail of other remedies despite its belief that it was aggrieved by a decision or court action, then it is deemed to have fully agreed and is satisfied with the decision or order. As early as 1918, it has been declared that public policy and sound practice demand that, at the risk of occasional errors, judgments of courts must at some point of time fixed by law become final otherwise there will be no end to litigation. Interes rei publicae ut finis sit litium - the very object of which the courts were constituted was to put an end to controversies. To fulfill this purpose and to do so speedily, certain time limits, more or less arbitrary, have to be set up to spur on the slothful. The only instance where a party interested in a probate proceeding may have a final liquidation set aside is when he is left out by reason of circumstances beyond his control or through mistake or inadvertence not imputable to negligence, which circumstances do not concur herein.
Petitioner was privy to the suit calling for the declaration of the intrinsic invalidity of the will, as she precisely appealed from an unfavorable order therefrom. Although the final and executory Order of January 30, 1986 wherein private respondents were declared as the only heirs do not bind those who are not parties thereto such as the alleged illegitimate son of the testator, the same constitutes res judicata with respect to those who were parties to the probate proceedings. Petitioner cannot again raise those matters anew for relitigation otherwise that would amount to forum-shopping. It should be remembered that forum shopping also occurs when the same issue had already been resolved adversely by some other court. It is clear from the executory order that the estates of Alejandro and his spouse should be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession.
Petitioner posits that the January 30, 1986 Order is merely interlocutory, hence it can still be set aside by the trial court. In support thereof, petitioner argues that “an order merely declaring who are heirs and the shares to which set of heirs is entitled cannot be the basis of execution to require delivery of shares from one person to another particularly when no project of partition has been filed.” The trial court declared in the January 30, 1986 Order that petitioner is not the legal wife of Alejandro, whose only heirs are his three legitimate children (petitioners herein), and at the same time it nullified the will. But it should be noted that in the same Order, the trial court also said that the estate of the late spouses be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. Accordingly, it has no option but to implement that order of intestate distribution and not to reopen and again re-examine the intrinsic provisions of the same will.
It can be clearly inferred from Article 960 of the Civil Code, on the law of successional rights that testacy is preferred to intestacy. But before there could be testate distribution, the will must pass the scrutinizing test and safeguards provided by law considering that the deceased testator is no longer available to prove the voluntariness of his actions, aside from the fact that the transfer of the estate is usually onerous in nature and that no one is presumed to give - Nemo praesumitur donare. No intestate distribution of the estate can be done until and unless the will had failed to pass both its extrinsic and intrinsic validity. If the will is extrinsically void, the rules of intestacy apply regardless of the intrinsic validity thereof. If it is extrinsically valid, the next test is to determine its intrinsic validity – that is whether the provisions of the will are valid according to the laws of succession. In this case, the court had ruled that the will of Alejandro was extrinsically valid but the intrinsic provisions thereof were void. Thus, the rules of intestacy apply as correctly held by the trial court.
Furthermore, Alejandro’s disposition in his will of the alleged share in the conjugal properties of his late spouse, whom he described as his “only beloved wife”, is not a valid reason to reverse a final and executory order. Testamentary dispositions of properties not belonging exclusively to the testator or properties which are part of the conjugal regime cannot be given effect. Matters with respect to who owns the properties that were disposed of by Alejandro in the void will may still be properly ventilated and determined in the intestate proceedings for the settlement of his and that of his late spouse’s estate.
Petitioner’s motion for appointment as administratrix is rendered moot considering that she was not married to the late Alejandro and, therefore, is not an heir.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the decision appealed from is AFFIRMED.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Puno, Kapunan, and Pardo, JJ., concur.
Annex “A” of Petition; Rollo, pp. 19-20.
Court of Appeals resolution dated January 11, 1989 reads: “For failure of appellant to file brief within the extended period, the appeal interposed in this case is dismissed pursuant to Section 1(f), Rule 50 of the Rules of Court.” (Rollo, p. 20).
Mrs. Cresild Soliman and Zaldy Adalin.
Manolo v. Paredes, 47 Phil. 938; In Re Estate of Johnson, 39 Phil. 156, cited in De la Cerna v. Rebaca-Potot, 12 SCRA 576.
Lopez v. Gonzales, 10 SCRA 167; Mercado v. Santos, 66 Phil. 215; Manahan v. Manahan, 58 Phil. 448; Riera v. Palmanori, 40 Phil. 105; In re Estate of Johnson, 39 Phil. 156; Austria v. Ventinilla, 27 Phil. 180; Montaño v. Suesa, 14 Phil. 676; Chiong Joc-Soy v. Vaño, 8 Phil. 119.
Mercado v. Paredes, 47 Phil. 938.
Ajero v. CA, 236 SCRA 488; Acain v. CA, 155 SCRA 100; Pastor v. CA, 122 SCRA 85.
Vda. de Kilayko v. Tengco, 207 SCRA 600.
Section 1, Rule 75, Rules of Court; Nepomuceno v. CA, 139 SCRA 206; Cayetano v. Leonidas, 129 SCRA 522; Maning v. CA, 114 SCRA 478; Nuguid v. Nuguid, 17 SCRA 449.
Mercado v. Santos, 66 Phil. 215.
Articles 796-798 of the Civil Code.
Estate of Hilario M. Ruiz v. CA, 252 SCRA 541; Maninang, et. al. v. CA, 114 SCRA 473; Coronado v. CA, 191 SCRA 814. See also Castañeda v. Alemany, 3 Phil. 426.
Civil Code, Article 886. “Legitime is that part of the testators property which he cannot dispose of because the law has reserved it for certain heirs who are, therefore, called compulsory heirs.” and Article 904 reads “The testator cannot deprive his compulsory heirs of their legitime, except in cases expressly specified by law. Neither can he impose upon the same any burden, encumbrance, condition, or substitution of any kind whatsoever.” (emphases supplied).
Dy Cay v. Crossfield and O’Brien, 38 Phil. 521.
De la Cerna v. Rebaca-Potot, 12 SCRA 576 (1964).
Dy Cay v. Crossfield and O’Brien, 38 Phil. 521.
Vda. De Alberto v. CA, 173 SCRA 436; Vda. de Kilayko v. Tengco, 207 SCRA 600.
Gatmaytan v. CA, 267 SCRA 487; see also Golangco v. CA, 283 SCRA 493.
Petition, p. 13; Rollo, p. 15 citing Quizon v. Castillo, 79 Phil. 9 (1947).
Article 960, Civil Code provides in part: “Legal or intestate succession takes place:
(1) If a person dies without a will, or with a void will, or one which has subsequently lost its validity;
(2) When the will does not institute an heir to, or dispose of all property belonging to the testator. In such case, legal succession shall take place only with respect to the property of which the testator has not disposed;
x x x x x x x x x.”
Handbook on Legal Maxims, p. 67.
[CA-G.R. SP No. 80032. February 16, 2005]
VICENTA UMENGAN, petitioner, vs. HEIRS OF ROSENDO LASAM, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
BRION, A., J.:
Before us is the appeal (by way of a Petition for Review under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court) filed by petitioner Vicenta Umengan (“petitioner”) from the August 29, 2003 decision of the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”), Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. The appealed decision affirmed in toto the November 21, 2001 decision of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (“MTCC”), Branch 3, Tuguegarao City, ordering the petitioner to vacate and surrender the disputed property to the respondent heirs of Rosendo Lasam (“respondents”).
The subject of controversy is a portion - the eastern half - of Lot 5427 and Lot 990 (“the disputed property”) of the Cadastral Survey of Tuguegarao, Cagayan. Lot No. 990 has an area of 1,037 square meters and is covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 196. Lot No. 5427, on the other hand, has an area of 118 square meters and is covered by OCT No. 1032. These lots are registered in the names of Spouses Pedro Cuntapay and Leona Bunagan. In a document entitled “Deed of Confirmation”, the heirs of Pedro Cuntapay adjudicated the lots to Irene Cuntapay and Isabel Cuntapay. In 1979, the heirs of Irene Cuntapay and the heirs of Isabel Cuntapay executed a “Partition Agreement” adjudicating to the heirs of Isabel Cuntapay the eastern half portion of the lots while the heirs of Irene Cuntapay got the western half portion of the lots.
Isabel Cuntapay had four children by her first husband, Domingo Turingan, and they are Abdon, Sado, Rufo and Maria. She had another two children – Trinidad Lasam and Rosendo Lasam by her second husband, Mariano Lasam.
The respondents allege that they are the owners of the disputed property because the original owner (who is also their grandmother) - Isabel Cuntapay - executed a last will and testament giving this property to their father, Rosendo Lasam. They also claim that their father thereafter allowed the petitioner and her husband to occupy the property on the understanding that they would vacate the property upon demand. The private respondents made the demand to vacate in their letter of July 25, 2000 but the petitioner refused. Hence, they initiated their action for ejectment.
The petitioner denies the material allegations of the complaint, particularly the allegation that she was merely allowed to occupy the disputed property. She maintains that she occupies the disputed property because she owns 184.66 square meters of the eastern half of Lots No. 990 and 5427. She acquired a portion of the disputed property by purchase from Rufo Turingan (son of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage) while another part was donated to her by Abdon Turingan (a son of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage and father of petitioner).
The petitioner likewise questions the authenticity and genuineness of the alleged last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay; the testator, the witnesses and the notary public did not sign the will which was never probated.
The MTCC of Tuguegarao City ruled in the private respondents’ favor in its decision of November 21, 2001. The MTCC so ruled under the reasoning that they have a better right to possession because of the newly discovered will they presented. The lower court also reasoned out that the petitioner could not have acquired the property from Abdon Turingan and Rufo Turingan (children of Isabel Cuntapay by her first marriage) because they could not have conveyed property that they did not own. Isabel bequeathed the disputed property in her will solely to Rosendo Lasam while the other heirs were given other pieces of property. Based on these premises, the MTCC recognized that the petitioner's possession of the disputed property was by mere tolerance; she should have vacated and surrendered this property upon demand by the respondents. The dispositive portion of the MTCC decision provides:
“WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing considerations, this Court Resolve to order the EJECTMENT of VICENTA T. UMENGAN and in her place INSTITUTE THE HEIRS of ROSENDO LASAM.
It is further ordered the defendant shall pay the Heirs of Rosendo Lasam the sum of P500.00 pesos representing the monthly rental of the land from August 2000 to the time this case shall have been terminated.
Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the amount of P20,000.00 attorney fee plus cost of this litigation.
The RTC affirmed the MTCC decision in toto on appeal. This RTC ruling is the decision now before us through the present petition for review.
THE ASSIGNED ERRORS
Petitioner assigned the following errors in support of her appeal:
THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT REGIONAL TRIAL COURT COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION BY HOLDING THAT THE TRIAL COURT HAD JURISDICTION OVER THE CASE.
THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT REGIONAL TRIAL COURT COMMITTED MANIFEST MISAPPREHENSION OF FACTS BY HOLDING THAT THE 'TESTAMENTO ABIERTO' IS FAVORED OVER PETITIONER'S MUNIMENTS OF TITLE.
THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION BY HOLDING THAT PRIVATE RESPONDENTS HAD A BETTER RIGHT OVER THE LAND IN QUESTION.”
THE COURT’S RULING
We find the petition meritorious.
I. The Jurisdictional Issue
The petitioner argues that the present case is for recovery of ownership of the disputed lots and not merely for recovery of possession or unlawful detainer. She maintains that the respondents anchor their claim of ownership on the “newly discovered will” of Isabel Cuntapay while she claims ownership under the Deed of Sale and Deed of Donation executed in her favor. To petitioner, the main issue under these opposing positions is the recovery of ownership of real property – a matter beyond the jurisdiction of the MTCC to rule upon. The MTCC, therefore, should have dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction; for the same reason, the RTC should not have entertained the appeal from the MTCC decision.
We see no merit in these contentions.
The well-settled rule is that jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case is conferred by law and determined by the allegations of the complaint - the concise statement of the ultimate facts constituting the plaintiff's cause of action. The nature of an action as well as the court or body that has jurisdiction is determined by the allegations of the complaint irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover on some or all of the asserted claims.
The respondents' complaint states in its material portions that -
xxx xxx xxx
3. That plaintiffs are the legal heirs of Rosendo C. Lasam, and the latter is the only heir of late Pedro Cuntapay, thru Isabel Cuntapay and Pedro Cuntapay is the registered and absolute owner of a parcel of land situated in province of Cagayan .....
xxx xxx xxx
4. That the above-named late Rosendo C. Lasam, during the time he was still living, allowed the defendant to acquire possession of the subject real property sometime in 1955, when defendant and her husband begged and asked said Rosendo C. Lasam to temporarily allow them to occupy the subject real property for shelter; and promised that they will vacate the same upon demand;
5. That in consequence of defendant's promise to voluntarily surrender its possession upon demand, they were allowed to occupy the subject real property, and its possession was considered that of a 'merely tolerated' character;
x x x
6. That sometime in the year 2000, plaintiffs made a notice and demand to vacate the premises of the subject real property, thru a formal written demand letter dated July 25, 2000, ...xxx
7. That by virtue of the aforesaid demand to vacate being the source of terminating the created contract, defendant now 'unlawfully withholds' the possession of the subject real property to the damage to plaintiffs' property rights, and despite notice and demand to vacate, defendant refused and still refuses to vacate the same.
xxx xxx xxx.”
These allegations unequivocally posit that the private respondents merely tolerated petitioner’s possession of the disputed property so that the latter should now be bound by her promise to vacate the disputed property upon demand. The complaint resulted when the petitioner refused to comply with her promise.
We also find from the plain terms of the complaint that the private respondents never asked that they be declared the lawful owners of the disputed property. They simply wanted the petitioner to vacate and surrender possession of the disputed property. These statements in the complaint, in our view, make out a case for unlawful detainer or the withholding of the possession of real property after the expiration or termination of the right to hold possession under a contract, express or implied.
With unlawful detainer as the clear cause of action reflected in the complaint, the MTCC would still retain jurisdiction even if a party raises the issue of ownership. Section 33 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 vests inferior courts with jurisdiction to resolve questions of ownership provisionally in order to determine the issue of possession. In Boy vs. Court of Appeals, the High Court held that, “in forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases, if the defendant raises the question of ownership in his pleadings and the question of possession cannot be resolved without deciding the issue of ownership, the inferior courts have the undoubted competence provisionally to resolve the issue of ownership for the sole purpose of determining the issue of possession. Based on the above legal provision and ruling, we hold that the MTCC did not err in taking cognizance of the case.
II. The Res Adjudicata Issue.
Still on the ownership issue, the respondents for their part maintain that a ruling on this issue is inappropriate because this issue had already been resolved by the RTC, Branch 3, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, in Civil Case No. 4917 when that court dismissed the petitioner's complaint for partition. In other words, to private respondent a bar by prior judgment has already set in and the previous and final ruling on the ownership issue can no longer be disturbed.
Our reading of the Orders (dated June 16, 1997 and October 13, 1997) in Civil Case No. 4917 reveals that the RTC, Branch 3, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, dismissed the complaint for partition because of the discovery of the alleged last will and testament of Isabel Cuntapay. The court did not declare respondents the owners of the disputed property. It simply ordered them to petition the court for the allowance of the will to determine the proper legitimes of the heirs prior to any partition. Instead of filing the appropriate petition for the probate of Isabel Cuntapay’s will, the respondents filed the present complaint for unlawful detainer. Viewed from this perspective, we have no doubt that the court’s Orders cited by the respondents are not “judgments on the merits” that would result in the application of the principle of res judicata. “Where the trial court merely refrained from proceeding with the case and granted the motion to dismiss with some clarification without conducting a trial on the merits, there is no res judicata.”
III. The Unlawful Detainer Issue.
The lower courts essentially ruled in the respondents' favor on the ground that testacy is favored over intestacy and that the will of the owner on the disposition of her properties after her death, as reflected in her last will and testament, must be respected. Citing Article 1080 of the Civil Code as authority, the lower courts concluded that the “Testamento Abierto” executed by Isabel Cuntapay expressing her desired apportionment of her properties must be respected. The cited Article 1080 provides:
“Art. 1080. Should a person make a partition of his estate by an act inter vivos, or by will, such partition shall be respected, insofar as it does not prejudice the legitime of the compulsory heirs.”
We disagree with the lower court's reading of the cited provision and the consequent conclusion they drew.
Legal literature is rich in authorities that may be cited on the interpretation and application of Article 1080 of the Civil Code. The eminent civilist, Arturo Tolentino, states that the testator who partitions his or her properties must observe the formalities necessary for the act. A partition by an act inter vivos should be reduced to writing and appear in a public instrument if it relates to real estate because it would be a conveyance of such estate. If by last will and testament, the legal requisites of a will should be observed. The High Court has similarly spoken when it held in Chavez vs. Intermediate Appellate Court that, “Article 1080 of the Civil Code clearly gives a person two options in making a partition of his estate; either by an act inter vivos or by will. When a person makes a partition by will, it is imperative that such partition must be executed in accordance with the provisions of the law on wills; however, when a person makes the partition of his estate by an act inter vivos, such partition may even be oral or written, and need not be in the form of a will, provided that the partition does not prejudice the legitime of compulsory heirs”.
These rulings give rise to the question: did Isabel Cuntapay’s will comply with the requisites under our law on succession?
Our examination of the “Testamento Abierto” of Isabel Cuntapay gives us a negative answer. We note that the will was not paged as the law requires. It did not also contain an attestation clause. The testator and the witnesses likewise did not sign the second page of the will. Moreover, the alleged will was not acknowledged before a notary public by the testator and by the witnesses. In other words, the will on which private respondents anchor their right of possession is void and would have been disallowed if submitted to probate. Consequently, the succession to Isabel Cuntapay’s estate should have been by legal or intestate succession.
Additionally, we cannot help but view with misgivings certain circumstances the private respondents cite in their claim of ownership and possession. Isabel Cuntapay died in 1947 and private respondents claim that they discovered the will of Isabel Cuntapay only in 1997. A date - May 19, 1956 – appears, however, at the last page of the alleged will. As the will had not been probated we could not exactly determine whether May 19, 1956 refers to the date of execution of the will or date of discovery of the will. In either case, the date appearing on the will does not help private respondents' cause. If this date is the date of execution of the will, then the will is spurious because Isabel Cuntapay died in 1947. If the date, on the other hand, refers to the date the will was discovered, we wonder why the respondents (represented by their mother) declared in the “Partition Agreement” dated December 28, 1979 that Isabel Cuntapay died intestate, and why private respondents' mother did not claim sole ownership of the property instead of agreeing (in the Partition Agreement) that the disputed lots are owned in common by the heirs of Isabel Cuntapay. Lastly, we are baffled by respondents’ failure to submit the will to probate as the lower court suggested, choosing instead to file the present case for ejectment.
As against the above infirmities in the respondents’ submissions, the petitioner presented a Deed of Sale and Deed of Donation to justify her possession of the disputed property. She had also indisputably been in possession of the property since 1955. Such prior possession gives her the right to remain in the property until a person with a better right lawfully ejects her. As previously discussed, private respondents do not have that better right.
As our last point, we stress that our ruling on the issue of physical possession does not affect title to the property nor constitute a binding and conclusive adjudication on the merits on the issue of ownership. The parties are not precluded from filing the appropriate action directly contesting the ownership of or the title to the property.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is GRANTED. The August 29, 2003 decision of the RTC, Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan in Civil Case No. 5924 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Private respondents' complaint for unlawful detainer against petitioner is dismissed for lack of merit.
Eugenio Labitoria, (Chairman) and Eliezer De Los Santos, JJ., concur.
 Penned by Presiding Judge Jimmy H. F. Luczon, Jr. (Rollo, pp. 27 – 33)
 Rollo, pp. 24 – 26.
 Rollo, p. 24
 Id., pp. 16 - 18
 Id., pp. 19 - 21
 Id., p. 24
 Rollo, p. 186
 Id., pp. 47 - 48
 Id., pp. 59 - 50
 Id., p. 74
 Rollo, p. 25
 Id., p. 26
 Id., pp. 27-33
 Rollo, p. 9
 Rollo, p. 10
 Dimo Realty & Development, Inc. vs. Dimaculangan, GR No. 130991, March 11, 2004.
 Rollo, pp. 47 - 48
 Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, GR No. 146364, June 3, 2004
 Boy vs. Court of Appeals, GR No. 125088, April 14, 2004; Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, GR No. 146364, June 3, 2004; Rivera vs. Rivera, 405 SCRA 466
 GR No. 125088, April 14, 2004
 The essential requisites of bar by prior judgment or res judicata are: (1) the former judgment must be final; (2) it must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and over the parties; (3) it must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be between the first and second action, identity of parties, identity of subject matter and identity of cause of action.
 Rollo, pp. 179-180
 Id., pp. 202 - 207
 Deang vs. Inter mediate Appellate Court, 154 SCRA 250
 Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines, Vol. III, 1995 ed., p. 598 citing Fajardo vs. Fajardo, 54 Phil 842.
 GR No. 68282, November 8, 1990
 Art. 805 of the Civil Code reads:
Every will, other than a holographic will, must be subscribed at the end thereof by the testator himself or by the testator's name written by some other person in his presence, and by his express direction, and attested and subscribed by three or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator and of one another.
The testator or the person requested by him to write his name and the instrumental witnesses of the will, shall also sign, as aforesaid, each and every page thereof, except the last on the left margin, and all the pages shall be numbered correlatively in letters placed on the upper part of each page.
The attestation shall state the number of pages used upon which the will is written, and the fact that the testator signed the will and every page thereof, or caused some other person to write his name, under his express direction, in the presence of the instrumental witnesses, and that the latter witnessed and signed the will and all the pages thereof in the presence of the testator and of one another.
If the attestation clause is in a language not known to the witnesses, it shall be interpreted to them.
 Art. 806. Every will must be acknowledged before a notary public by the testator and the witnesses. The notary public shall not be required to retain a copy of the will, or file another with the office of the Clerk of Court.
Art. 839. The will shall be disallowed in any of the following cases:
(1) If the formalities required by law have not been complied with;
xxx xxx xxx
 Art. 960. Legal or intestate succession takes place:
(1) If a person dies without a will, or with a void will, or one which has subsequently lost its validity.
Xxx xxx xxx
 Rollo, p. 19
 Id., p. 203
 Id., p. 221
 Rollo, pp. 19 - 20
 Id., p. 22
 Id., p. 23
 Id., p. 47
 Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, GR No. 146364, June 3, 2004
 Id., Boy vs. Court of Appeals, GR No. 125088, April 14, 2004
JOHNNY S. RABADILLA, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS AND MARIA MARLENA COSCOLUELLA Y BELLEZA VILLACARLOS, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review of the decision of the Court of Appeals, dated December 23, 1993, in CA-G.R. No. CV-35555, which set aside the decision of Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court in Bacolod City, and ordered the defendants-appellees (including herein petitioner), as heirs of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, to reconvey title over Lot No. 1392, together with its fruits and interests, to the estate of Aleja Belleza.
The antecedent facts are as follows:
In a Codicil appended to the Last Will and Testament of testatrix Aleja Belleza, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, predecessor-in-interest of the herein petitioner, Johnny S. Rabadilla, was instituted as a devisee of 511, 855 square meters of that parcel of land surveyed as Lot No. 1392 of the Bacolod Cadastre. The said Codicil, which was duly probated and admitted in Special Proceedings No. 4046 before the then Court of First Instance of Negros Occidental, contained the following provisions:
I give, leave and bequeath the following property owned by me to Dr. Jorge Rabadilla resident of 141 P. Villanueva, Pasay City:
(a) Lot No. 1392 of the Bacolod Cadastre, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. RT-4002 (10942), which is registered in my name according to the records of the Register of Deeds of Negros Occidental.
(b) That should Jorge Rabadilla die ahead of me, the aforementioned property and the rights which I shall set forth hereinbelow, shall be inherited and acknowledged by the children and spouse of Jorge Rabadilla.
(a)....It is also my command, in this my addition (Codicil), that should I die and Jorge Rabadilla shall have already received the ownership of the said Lot No. 1392 of the Bacolod Cadastre, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. RT-4002 (10942), and also at the time that the lease of Balbinito G. Guanzon of the said lot shall expire, Jorge Rabadilla shall have the obligation until he dies, every year to give to Maria Marlina Coscolluela y Belleza, Seventy (75) (sic) piculs of Export sugar and Twenty Five (25) piculs of Domestic sugar, until the said Maria Marlina Coscolluela y Belleza dies.
(a) Should Jorge Rabadilla die, his heir to whom he shall give Lot No. 1392 of the Bacolod Cadastre, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. RT-4002 (10492), shall have the obligation to still give yearly, the sugar as specified in the Fourth paragraph of his testament, to Maria Marlina Coscolluela y Belleza on the month of December of each year.
I command, in this my addition (Codicil) that the Lot No. 1392, in the event that the one to whom I have left and bequeathed, and his heir shall later sell, lease, mortgage this said Lot, the buyer, lessee, mortgagee, shall have also the obligation to respect and deliver yearly ONE HUNDRED (100) piculs of sugar to Maria Marlina Coscolluela y Belleza, on each month of December, SEVENTY FIVE (75) piculs of Export and TWENTY FIVE (25) piculs of Domestic, until Maria Marlina shall die, lastly should the buyer, lessee or the mortgagee of this lot, not have respected my command in this my addition (Codicil), Maria Marlina Coscolluela y Belleza, shall immediately seize this Lot No. 1392 from my heir and the latter's heirs, and shall turn it over to my near desendants, (sic) and the latter shall then have the obligation to give the ONE HUNDRED (100) piculs of sugar until Maria Marlina shall die. I further command in this my addition (Codicil) that my heir and his heirs of this Lot No. 1392, that they will obey and follow that should they decide to sell, lease, mortgage, they cannot negotiate with others than my near descendants and my sister."
Pursuant to the same Codicil, Lot No. 1392 was transferred to the deceased, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, and Transfer Certificate of Title No. 44498 thereto issued in his name.
Dr. Jorge Rabadilla died in 1983 and was survived by his wife Rufina and children Johnny (petitioner), Aurora, Ofelia and Zenaida, all surnamed Rabadilla.
On August 21, 1989, Maria Marlena Coscolluela y Belleza Villacarlos brought a complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 5588, before Branch 52 of the Regional Trial Court in Bacolod City, against the above-mentioned heirs of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, to enforce the provisions of subject Codicil. The Complaint alleged that the defendant-heirs violated the conditions of the Codicil, in that:
1. Lot No. 1392 was mortgaged to the Philippine National Bank and the Republic Planters Bank in disregard of the testatrix's specific instruction to sell, lease, or mortgage only to the near descendants and sister of the testatrix.
2. Defendant-heirs failed to comply with their obligation to deliver one hundred (100) piculs of sugar (75 piculs export sugar and 25 piculs domestic sugar) to plaintiff Maria Marlena Coscolluela y Belleza from sugar crop years 1985 up to the filing of the complaint as mandated by the Codicil, despite repeated demands for compliance.
3. The banks failed to comply with the 6th paragraph of the Codicil which provided that in case of the sale, lease, or mortgage of the property, the buyer, lessee, or mortgagee shall likewise have the obligation to deliver 100 piculs of sugar per crop year to herein private respondent.
The plaintiff then prayed that judgment be rendered ordering defendant-heirs to reconvey/return-Lot No. 1392 to the surviving heirs of the late Aleja Belleza, the cancellation of TCT No. 44498 in the name of the deceased, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, and the issuance of a new certificate of title in the names of the surviving heirs of the late Aleja Belleza.
On February 26, 1990, the defendant-heirs were declared in default but on March 28, 1990 the Order of Default was lifted, with respect to defendant Johnny S. Rabadilla, who filed his Answer, accordingly.
During the pre-trial, the parties admitted that:
On November 15, 1998, the plaintiff (private respondent) and a certain Alan Azurin, son-in-law of the herein petitioner who was lessee of the property and acting as attorney-in-fact of defendant-heirs, arrived at an amicable settlement and entered into a Memorandum of Agreement on the obligation to deliver one hundred piculs of sugar, to the following effect:
"That for crop year 1988-89, the annuity mentioned in Entry No. 49074 of TCT No. 44489 will be delivered not later than January of 1989, more specifically, to wit:
75 piculs of 'A' sugar, and 25 piculs of 'B' sugar, or then existing in any of our names, Mary Rose Rabadilla y Azurin or Alan Azurin, during December of each sugar crop year, in Azucar Sugar Central; and, this is considered compliance of the annuity as mentioned, and in the same manner will compliance of the annuity be in the next succeeding crop years.
That the annuity above stated for crop year 1985-86, 1986-87, and 1987-88, will be complied in cash equivalent of the number of piculs as mentioned therein and which is as herein agreed upon, taking into consideration the composite price of sugar during each sugar crop year, which is in the total amount of ONE HUNDRED FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P105,000.00).
That the above-mentioned amount will be paid or delivered on a staggered cash installment, payable on or before the end of December of every sugar crop year, to wit:
For 1985-86, TWENTY SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FIFTY (P26,250.00) Pesos, payable on or before December of crop year 1988-89;
For 1986-87, TWENTY SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FIFTY (P26,250.00) Pesos, payable on or before December of crop year 1989-90;
For 1987-88, TWENTY SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FIFTY (P26,250.00) Pesos, payable on or before December of crop year 1990-91; and
For 1988-89, TWENTY SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FIFTY (P26,250.00) Pesos, payable on or before December of crop year 1991-92."
However, there was no compliance with the aforesaid Memorandum of Agreement except for a partial delivery of 50.80 piculs of sugar corresponding to sugar crop year 1988 -1989.
On July 22, 1991, the Regional Trial Court came out with a decision, dismissing the complaint and disposing as follows:
"WHEREFORE, in the light of the aforegoing findings, the Court finds that the action is prematurely filed as no cause of action against the defendants has as yet arose in favor of plaintiff. While there maybe the non-performance of the command as mandated exaction from them simply because they are the children of Jorge Rabadilla, the title holder/owner of the lot in question, does not warrant the filing of the present complaint. The remedy at bar must fall. Incidentally, being in the category as creditor of the left estate, it is opined that plaintiff may initiate the intestate proceedings, if only to establish the heirs of Jorge Rabadilla and in order to give full meaning and semblance to her claim under the Codicil.
In the light of the aforegoing findings, the Complaint being prematurely filed is DISMISSED without prejudice.
On appeal by plaintiff, the First Division of the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court; ratiocinating and ordering thus:
"Therefore, the evidence on record having established plaintiff-appellant's right to receive 100 piculs of sugar annually out of the produce of Lot No. 1392; defendants-appellee's obligation under Aleja Belleza's codicil, as heirs of the modal heir, Jorge Rabadilla, to deliver such amount of sugar to plaintiff-appellant; defendants-appellee's admitted non-compliance with said obligation since 1985; and, the punitive consequences enjoined by both the codicil and the Civil Code, of seizure of Lot No. 1392 and its reversion to the estate of Aleja Belleza in case of such non-compliance, this Court deems it proper to order the reconveyance of title over Lot No. 1392 from the estates of Jorge Rabadilla to the estate of Aleja Belleza. However, plaintiff-appellant must institute separate proceedings to re-open Aleja Belleza's estate, secure the appointment of an administrator, and distribute Lot No. 1392 to Aleja Belleza's legal heirs in order to enforce her right, reserved to her by the codicil, to receive her legacy of 100 piculs of sugar per year out of the produce of Lot No. 1392 until she dies.
Accordingly, the decision appealed from is SET ASIDE and another one entered ordering defendants-appellees, as heirs of Jorge Rabadilla, to reconvey title over Lot No. 1392, together with its fruits and interests, to the estate of Aleja Belleza.
Dissatisfied with the aforesaid disposition by the Court of Appeals, petitioner found his way to this Court via the present petition, contending that the Court of Appeals erred in ordering the reversion of Lot 1392 to the estate of the testatrix Aleja Belleza on the basis of paragraph 6 of the Codicil, and in ruling that the testamentary institution of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla is a modal institution within the purview of Article 882 of the New Civil Code.
The petition is not impressed with merit.
Petitioner contends that the Court of Appeals erred in resolving the appeal in accordance with Article 882 of the New Civil Code on modal institutions and in deviating from the sole issue raised which is the absence or prematurity of the cause of action. Petitioner maintains that Article 882 does not find application as there was no modal institution and the testatrix intended a mere simple substitution - i.e. the instituted heir, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, was to be substituted by the testatrix's "near descendants" should the obligation to deliver the fruits to herein private respondent be not complied with. And since the testatrix died single and without issue, there can be no valid substitution and such testamentary provision cannot be given any effect.
The petitioner theorizes further that there can be no valid substitution for the reason that the substituted heirs are not definite, as the substituted heirs are merely referred to as "near descendants" without a definite identity or reference as to who are the "near descendants" and therefore, under Articles 843 and 845 of the New Civil Code, the substitution should be deemed as not written.
The contentions of petitioner are untenable. Contrary to his supposition that the Court of Appeals deviated from the issue posed before it, which was the propriety of the dismissal of the complaint on the ground of prematurity of cause of action, there was no such deviation. The Court of Appeals found that the private respondent had a cause of action against the petitioner. The disquisition made on modal institution was, precisely, to stress that the private respondent had a legally demandable right against the petitioner pursuant to subject Codicil; on which issue the Court of Appeals ruled in accordance with law.
It is a general rule under the law on succession that successional rights are transmitted from the moment of death of the decedent and compulsory heirs are called to succeed by operation of law. The legitimate children and descendants, in relation to their legitimate parents, and the widow or widower, are compulsory heirs. Thus, the petitioner, his mother and sisters, as compulsory heirs of the instituted heir, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, succeeded the latter by operation of law, without need of further proceedings, and the successional rights were transmitted to them from the moment of death of the decedent, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla.
Under Article 776 of the New Civil Code, inheritance includes all the property, rights and obligations of a person, not extinguished by his death. Conformably, whatever rights Dr. Jorge Rabadilla had by virtue of subject Codicil were transmitted to his forced heirs, at the time of his death. And since obligations not extinguished by death also form part of the estate of the decedent; corollarily, the obligations imposed by the Codicil on the deceased Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, were likewise transmitted to his compulsory heirs upon his death.
In the said Codicil, testatrix Aleja Belleza devised Lot No. 1392 to Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, subject to the condition that the usufruct thereof would be delivered to the herein private respondent every year. Upon the death of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, his compulsory heirs succeeded to his rights and title over the said property, and they also assumed his (decedent's) obligation to deliver the fruits of the lot involved to herein private respondent. Such obligation of the instituted heir reciprocally corresponds to the right of private respondent over the usufruct, the fulfillment or performance of which is now being demanded by the latter through the institution of the case at bar. Therefore, private respondent has a cause of action against petitioner and the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint below.
Petitioner also theorizes that Article 882 of the New Civil Code on modal institutions is not applicable because what the testatrix intended was a substitution - Dr. Jorge Rabadilla was to be substituted by the testatrix's near descendants should there be noncompliance with the obligation to deliver the piculs of sugar to private respondent.
Again, the contention is without merit.
Substitution is the designation by the testator of a person or persons to take the place of the heir or heirs first instituted. Under substitutions in general, the testator may either (1) provide for the designation of another heir to whom the property shall pass in case the original heir should die before him/her, renounce the inheritance or be incapacitated to inherit, as in a simple substitution, or (2) leave his/her property to one person with the express charge that it be transmitted subsequently to another or others, as in a fideicommissary substitution. The Codicil sued upon contemplates neither of the two.
In simple substitutions, the second heir takes the inheritance in default of the first heir by reason of incapacity, predecease or renunciation. In the case under consideration, the provisions of subject Codicil do not provide that should Dr. Jorge Rabadilla default due to predecease, incapacity or renunciation, the testatrix's near descendants would substitute him. What the Codicil provides is that, should Dr. Jorge Rabadilla or his heirs not fulfill the conditions imposed in the Codicil, the property referred to shall be seized and turned over to the testatrix's near descendants.
Neither is there a fideicommissary substitution here and on this point, petitioner is correct. In a fideicommissary substitution, the first heir is strictly mandated to preserve the property and to transmit the same later to the second heir. In the case under consideration, the instituted heir is in fact allowed under the Codicil to alienate the property provided the negotiation is with the near descendants or the sister of the testatrix. Thus, a very important element of a fideicommissary substitution is lacking; the obligation clearly imposing upon the first heir the preservation of the property and its transmission to the second heir. "Without this obligation to preserve clearly imposed by the testator in his will, there is no fideicommissary substitution." Also, the near descendants' right to inherit from the testatrix is not definite. The property will only pass to them should Dr. Jorge Rabadilla or his heirs not fulfill the obligation to deliver part of the usufruct to private respondent.
Another important element of a fideicommissary substitution is also missing here. Under Article 863, the second heir or the fideicommissary to whom the property is transmitted must not be beyond one degree from the first heir or the fiduciary. A fideicommissary substitution is therefore, void if the first heir is not related by first degree to the second heir. In the case under scrutiny, the near descendants are not at all related to the instituted heir, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla.
The Court of Appeals erred not in ruling that the institution of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla under subject Codicil is in the nature of a modal institution and therefore, Article 882 of the New Civil Code is the provision of law in point. Articles 882 and 883 of the New Civil Code provide:
Art. 882. The statement of the object of the institution or the application of the property left by the testator, or the charge imposed on him, shall not be considered as a condition unless it appears that such was his intention.
That which has been left in this manner may be claimed at once provided that the instituted heir or his heirs give security for compliance with the wishes of the testator and for the return of anything he or they may receive, together with its fruits and interests, if he or they should disregard this obligation.
Art. 883. When without the fault of the heir, an institution referred to in the preceding article cannot take effect in the exact manner stated by the testator, it shall be complied with in a manner most analogous to and in conformity with his wishes.
The institution of an heir in the manner prescribed in Article 882 is what is known in the law of succession as an institucion sub modo or a modal institution. In a modal institution, the testator states (1) the object of the institution, (2) the purpose or application of the property left by the testator, or (3) the charge imposed by the testator upon the heir. A "mode" imposes an obligation upon the heir or legatee but it does not affect the efficacy of his rights to the succession. On the other hand, in a conditional testamentary disposition, the condition must happen or be fulfilled in order for the heir to be entitled to succeed the testator. The condition suspends but does not obligate; and the mode obligates but does not suspend. To some extent, it is similar to a resolutory condition.
From the provisions of the Codicil litigated upon, it can be gleaned unerringly that the testatrix intended that subject property be inherited by Dr. Jorge Rabadilla. It is likewise clearly worded that the testatrix imposed an obligation on the said instituted heir and his successors-in-interest to deliver one hundred piculs of sugar to the herein private respondent, Marlena Coscolluela Belleza, during the lifetime of the latter. However, the testatrix did not make Dr. Jorge Rabadilla's inheritance and the effectivity of his institution as a devisee, dependent on the performance of the said obligation. It is clear, though, that should the obligation be not complied with, the property shall be turned over to the testatrix's near descendants. The manner of institution of Dr. Jorge Rabadilla under subject Codicil is evidently modal in nature because it imposes a charge upon the instituted heir without, however, affecting the efficacy of such institution.
Then too, since testamentary dispositions are generally acts of liberality, an obligation imposed upon the heir should not be considered a condition unless it clearly appears from the Will itself that such was the intention of the testator. In case of doubt, the institution should be considered as modal and not conditional.
Neither is there tenability in the other contention of petitioner that the private respondent has only a right of usufruct but not the right to seize the property itself from the instituted heir because the right to seize was expressly limited to violations by the buyer, lessee or mortgagee.
In the interpretation of Wills, when an uncertainty arises on the face of the Will, as to the application of any of its provisions, the testator's intention is to be ascertained from the words of the Will, taking into consideration the circumstances under which it was made. Such construction as will sustain and uphold the Will in all its parts must be adopted.
Subject Codicil provides that the instituted heir is under obligation to deliver One Hundred (100) piculs of sugar yearly to Marlena Belleza Coscuella. Such obligation is imposed on the instituted heir, Dr. Jorge Rabadilla, his heirs, and their buyer, lessee, or mortgagee should they sell, lease, mortgage or otherwise negotiate the property involved. The Codicil further provides that in the event that the obligation to deliver the sugar is not respected, Marlena Belleza Coscuella shall seize the property and turn it over to the testatrix's near descendants. The non-performance of the said obligation is thus with the sanction of seizure of the property and reversion thereof to the testatrix's near descendants. Since the said obligation is clearly imposed by the testatrix, not only on the instituted heir but also on his successors-in-interest, the sanction imposed by the testatrix in case of non-fulfillment of said obligation should equally apply to the instituted heir and his successors-in-interest.
Similarly unsustainable is petitioner's submission that by virtue of the amicable settlement, the said obligation imposed by the Codicil has been assumed by the lessee, and whatever obligation petitioner had become the obligation of the lessee; that petitioner is deemed to have made a substantial and constructive compliance of his obligation through the consummated settlement between the lessee and the private respondent, and having consummated a settlement with the petitioner, the recourse of the private respondent is the fulfillment of the obligation under the amicable settlement and not the seizure of subject property.
Suffice it to state that a Will is a personal, solemn, revocable and free act by which a person disposes of his property, to take effect after his death. Since the Will expresses the manner in which a person intends how his properties be disposed, the wishes and desires of the testator must be strictly followed. Thus, a Will cannot be the subject of a compromise agreement which would thereby defeat the very purpose of making a Will.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED and the decision of the Court of Appeals, dated December 23, 1993, in CA-G.R. No. CV-35555 AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs
Melo, J., (Chairman), concur in the separate opinion of Justice Vitug.
Vitug, J., see separate opinion.
Panganiban, J., join the separate opinion of Justice Vitug.
Gonzaga-Reyes, J., no part.
Was spelled interchangeably in Rollo as Ravadilla.
Was spelled interchangeably in Rollo as Marlina.
Penned by Justice Santiago M. Kapunan (Chairman) and concurred in by Justices Minerva P. Gonzaga-Reyes and Eduardo G. Montenegro, (Members)
Annex "C", Rollo, pp. 34-35.
Rollo, pp. 65-66.
RTC Decision, pp. 8-9.
CA Decision, p. 14.
Art. 843. The testator shall designate the heir by his name and surname, and when there are two persons having the same names, he shall indicate some circumstance by which the instituted heir may be known.
Even though the testator may have omitted the name of the heir, should he designate him in such manner that there can be no doubt as to who has been instituted, the institution shall be valid.
Art. 845. Every disposition in favor of an unknown person shall be void, unless by some event or circumstance his identity becomes certain. However, a disposition in favor of a definite class or group of persons shall be valid.
Article 777, New Civil Code.
Ibid., Article 887.
Ibid., Article 859.
Ibid., Article 863.
Ibid., Article 859.
Arturo Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code, Volume III, p. 212.
Ibid., p. 212.
Ramirez vs. Vda. De Ramos, 111 SCRA 704.
Tolentino, supra, pp. 241-242.
Ibid., p. 242.
Jottings and Jurisprudence in Civil Law, Ruben Balane, p. 249.
Tolentino, supra, p. 242.
Article 789, NCC.
Tolentino, supra, p. 34.
Art. 783, NCC and Tolentino, p. 28-29.
DY YIENG SEANGIO, G.R. Nos. 140371-72
BARBARA D. SEANGIO
and VIRGINIA D. SEANGIO,
PUNO, J., Chairperson,
- versus - SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ,
HON. AMOR A. REYES, in her GARCIA, JJ.
capacity as Presiding Judge,
Regional Trial Court, National
Capital Judicial Region, Branch 21,
Manila, ALFREDO D. SEANGIO,
ALBERTO D. SEANGIO, ELISA D. Promulgated:
SEANGIO-SANTOS, VICTOR D.
SEANGIO, ALFONSO D. SEANGIO,
SHIRLEY D. SEANGIO-LIM, November 27, 2006
BETTY D. SEANGIO-OBAS and
JAMES D. SEANGIO,
x ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x
This is a petition for certiorari with application for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order seeking the nullification of the orders, dated August 10, 1999 and October 14, 1999, of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 21 (the RTC), dismissing the petition for probate on the ground of preterition, in the consolidated cases, docketed as SP. Proc. No. 98-90870 and SP. Proc. No. 99-93396, and entitled, “In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of Segundo C. Seangio v. Alfredo D. Seangio, et al.” and “In the Matter of the Probate of the Will of Segundo C. Seangio v. Dy Yieng Seangio, Barbara D. Seangio and Virginia Seangio.”
The facts of the cases are as follows:
On September 21, 1988, private respondents filed a petition for the settlement of the intestate estate of the late Segundo Seangio, docketed as Sp. Proc. No. 98–90870 of the RTC, and praying for the appointment of private respondent Elisa D. Seangio–Santos as special administrator and guardian ad litem of petitioner Dy Yieng Seangio.
Petitioners Dy Yieng, Barbara and Virginia, all surnamed Seangio, opposed the petition. They contended that: 1) Dy Yieng is still very healthy and in full command of her faculties; 2) the deceased Segundo executed a general power of attorney in favor of Virginia giving her the power to manage and exercise control and supervision over his business in the Philippines; 3) Virginia is the most competent and qualified to serve as the administrator of the estate of Segundo because she is a certified public accountant; and, 4) Segundo left a holographic will, dated September 20, 1995, disinheriting one of the private respondents, Alfredo Seangio, for cause. In view of the purported holographic will, petitioners averred that in the event the decedent is found to have left a will, the intestate proceedings are to be automatically suspended and replaced by the proceedings for the probate of the will.
On April 7, 1999, a petition for the probate of the holographic will of Segundo, docketed as SP. Proc. No. 99–93396, was filed by petitioners before the RTC. They likewise reiterated that the probate proceedings should take precedence over SP. Proc. No. 98–90870 because testate proceedings take precedence and enjoy priority over intestate proceedings.
The document that petitioners refer to as Segundo’s holographic will is quoted, as follows:
Kasulatan sa pag-aalis ng mana
Tantunin ng sinuman
Ako si Segundo Seangio Filipino may asawa naninirahan sa 465-A Flores St., Ermita, Manila at nagtatalay ng maiwanag na pag-iisip at disposisyon ay tahasan at hayagang inaalisan ko ng lahat at anumang mana ang paganay kong anak na si Alfredo Seangio dahil siya ay naging lapastangan sa akin at isan beses siya ng sasalita ng masama harapan ko at mga kapatid niya na si Virginia Seangio labis kong kinasama ng loob ko at sasabe rin ni Alfredo sa akin na ako nasa ibabaw gayon gunit daratin ang araw na ako nasa ilalim siya at siya nasa ibabaw.
Labis kong ikinasama ng loob ko ang gamit ni Alfredo ng akin pagalan para makapagutang na kuarta siya at kanya asawa na si Merna de los Reyes sa China Bangking Corporation na millon pesos at hindi ng babayad at hindi ng babayad ito ay nagdulot sa aking ng malaking kahihiya sa mga may-ari at stockholders ng China Banking.
At ikinagalit ko pa rin ang pagkuha ni Alfredo at ng kanyang asawa na mga custome[r] ng Travel Center of the Philippines na pinagasiwaan ko at ng anak ko si Virginia.
Dito ako nagalit din kaya gayon ayoko na bilanin si Alfredo ng anak ko at hayanan kong inaalisan ng lahat at anoman mana na si Alfredo at si Alfredo Seangio ay hindi ko siya anak at hindi siya makoha mana.
Nila[g]daan ko ngayon ika 20 ng Setyembre 1995 sa longsod ng Manila sa harap ng tatlong saksi.
Nilagdaan sa harap namin
Dy Yieng Seangio (signed)
Unang Saksi ikalawang saksi
On May 29, 1999, upon petitioners’ motion, SP. Proc. No. 98–90870 and SP. Proc. No. 99–93396 were consolidated.
On July 1, 1999, private respondents moved for the dismissal of the probate proceedings primarily on the ground that the document purporting to be the holographic will of Segundo does not contain any disposition of the estate of the deceased and thus does not meet the definition of a will under Article 783 of the Civil Code. According to private respondents, the will only shows an alleged act of disinheritance by the decedent of his eldest son, Alfredo, and nothing else; that all other compulsory heirs were not named nor instituted as heir, devisee or legatee, hence, there is preterition which would result to intestacy. Such being the case, private respondents maintained that while procedurally the court is called upon to rule only on the extrinsic validity of the will, it is not barred from delving into the intrinsic validity of the same, and ordering the dismissal of the petition for probate when on the face of the will it is clear that it contains no testamentary disposition of the property of the decedent.
Petitioners filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss contending that: 1) generally, the authority of the probate court is limited only to a determination of the extrinsic validity of the will; 2) private respondents question the intrinsic and not the extrinsic validity of the will; 3) disinheritance constitutes a disposition of the estate of a decedent; and, 4) the rule on preterition does not apply because Segundo’s will does not constitute a universal heir or heirs to the exclusion of one or more compulsory heirs.
On August 10, 1999, the RTC issued its assailed order, dismissing the petition for probate proceedings:
A perusal of the document termed as “will” by oppositors/petitioners Dy Yieng Seangio, et al., clearly shows that there is preterition, as the only heirs mentioned thereat are Alfredo and Virginia. [T]he other heirs being omitted, Article 854 of the New Civil Code thus applies. However, insofar as the widow Dy Yieng Seangio is concerned, Article 854 does not apply, she not being a compulsory heir in the direct line.
As such, this Court is bound to dismiss this petition, for to do otherwise would amount to an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court in the case of Acain v. Intermediate Appellate Court [155 SCRA 100 (1987)] has made its position clear: “for … respondents to have tolerated the probate of the will and allowed the case to progress when, on its face, the will appears to be intrinsically void … would have been an exercise in futility. It would have meant a waste of time, effort, expense, plus added futility. The trial court could have denied its probate outright or could have passed upon the intrinsic validity of the testamentary provisions before the extrinsic validity of the will was resolved (underscoring supplied).
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion to Suspend Proceedings is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. Special Proceedings No. 99–93396 is hereby DISMISSED without pronouncement as to costs.
Petitioners’ motion for reconsideration was denied by the RTC in its order dated October 14, 1999.
Petitioners contend that:
THE RESPONDENT JUDGE ACTED IN EXCESS OF HER JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION AND DECIDED A QUESTION OF LAW NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW AND JURISPRUDENCE IN ISSUING THE QUESTIONED ORDERS, DATED 10 AUGUST 1999 AND 14 OCTOBER 1999 (ATTACHMENTS “A” AND “B” HEREOF) CONSIDERING THAT:
THE RESPONDENT JUDGE, WITHOUT EVEN COMPLYING WITH SECTIONS 3 AND 4 OF RULE 76 OF THE RULES OF COURT ON THE PROPER PROCEDURE FOR SETTING THE CASE FOR INITIAL HEARING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE JURISDICTIONAL FACTS, DISMISSED THE TESTATE CASE ON THE ALLEGED GROUND THAT THE TESTATOR’S WILL IS VOID ALLEGEDLY BECAUSE OF THE EXISTENCE OF PRETERITION, WHICH GOES INTO THE INTRINSIC VALIDITY OF THE WILL, DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT IS A SETTLED RULE THAT THE AUTHORITY OF PROBATE COURTS IS LIMITED ONLY TO A DETERMINATION OF THE EXTRINSIC VALIDITY OF THE WILL, I.E., THE DUE EXECUTION THEREOF, THE TESTATOR’S TESTAMENTARY CAPACITY AND THE COMPLIANCE WITH THE REQUISITES OR SOLEMNITIES PRESCRIBED BY LAW;
EVEN ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT THE RESPONDENT JUDGE HAS THE AUTHORITY TO RULE UPON THE INTRINSIC VALIDITY OF THE WILL OF THE TESTATOR, IT IS INDUBITABLE FROM THE FACE OF THE TESTATOR’S WILL THAT NO PRETERITON EXISTS AND THAT THE WILL IS BOTH INTRINSICALLY AND EXTRINSICALLY VALID; AND,
RESPONDENT JUDGE WAS DUTY BOUND TO SUSPEND THE PROCEEDINGS IN THE INTESTATE CASE CONSIDERING THAT IT IS A SETTLED RULE THAT TESTATE PROCEEDINGS TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER INTESTATE PROCEEDINGS.
Petitioners argue, as follows:
First, respondent judge did not comply with Sections 3 and 4 of Rule 76 of the Rules of Court which respectively mandate the court to: a) fix the time and place for proving the will when all concerned may appear to contest the allowance thereof, and cause notice of such time and place to be published three weeks successively previous to the appointed time in a newspaper of general circulation; and, b) cause the mailing of said notice to the heirs, legatees and devisees of the testator Segundo;
Second, the holographic will does not contain any institution of an heir, but rather, as its title clearly states, Kasulatan ng Pag-Aalis ng Mana, simply contains a disinheritance of a compulsory heir. Thus, there is no preterition in the decedent’s will and the holographic will on its face is not intrinsically void;
Third, the testator intended all his compulsory heirs, petitioners and private respondents alike, with the sole exception of Alfredo, to inherit his estate. None of the compulsory heirs in the direct line of Segundo were preterited in the holographic will since there was no institution of an heir;
Fourth, inasmuch as it clearly appears from the face of the holographic will that it is both intrinsically and extrinsically valid, respondent judge was mandated to proceed with the hearing of the testate case; and,
Lastly, the continuation of the proceedings in the intestate case will work injustice to petitioners, and will render nugatory the disinheritance of Alfredo.
The purported holographic will of Segundo that was presented by petitioners was dated, signed and written by him in his own handwriting. Except on the ground of preterition, private respondents did not raise any issue as regards the authenticity of the document.
The document, entitled Kasulatan ng Pag-Aalis ng Mana, unmistakably showed Segundo’s intention of excluding his eldest son, Alfredo, as an heir to his estate for the reasons that he cited therein. In effect, Alfredo was disinherited by Segundo.
For disinheritance to be valid, Article 916 of the Civil Code requires that the same must be effected through a will wherein the legal cause therefor shall be specified. With regard to the reasons for the disinheritance that were stated by Segundo in his document, the Court believes that the incidents, taken as a whole, can be considered a form of maltreatment of Segundo by his son, Alfredo, and that the matter presents a sufficient cause for the disinheritance of a child or descendant under Article 919 of the Civil Code:
Article 919. The following shall be sufficient causes for the disinheritance of children and descendants, legitimate as well as illegitimate:
(1) When a child or descendant has been found guilty of an attempt against the life of the testator, his or her spouse, descendants, or ascendants;
(2) When a child or descendant has accused the testator of a crime for which the law prescribes imprisonment for six years or more, if the accusation has been found groundless;
(3) When a child or descendant has been convicted of adultery or concubinage with the spouse of the testator;
(4) When a child or descendant by fraud, violence, intimidation, or undue influence causes the testator to make a will or to change one already made;
(5) A refusal without justifiable cause to support the parents or ascendant who disinherit such child or descendant;
(6) Maltreatment of the testator by word or deed, by the child or descendant;
(7) When a child or descendant leads a dishonorable or disgraceful life;
(8) Conviction of a crime which carries with it the penalty of civil interdiction.
Now, the critical issue to be determined is whether the document executed by Segundo can be considered as a holographic will.
A holographic will, as provided under Article 810 of the Civil Code, must be entirely written, dated, and signed by the hand of the testator himself. It is subject to no other form, and may be made in or out of the Philippines, and need not be witnessed.
Segundo’s document, although it may initially come across as a mere disinheritance instrument, conforms to the formalities of a holographic will prescribed by law. It is written, dated and signed by the hand of Segundo himself. An intent to dispose mortis causa can be clearly deduced from the terms of the instrument, and while it does not make an affirmative disposition of the latter’s property, the disinheritance of Alfredo, nonetheless, is an act of disposition in itself. In other words, the disinheritance results in the disposition of the property of the testator Segundo in favor of those who would succeed in the absence of Alfredo.
Moreover, it is a fundamental principle that the intent or the will of the testator, expressed in the form and within the limits prescribed by law, must be recognized as the supreme law in succession. All rules of construction are designed to ascertain and give effect to that intention. It is only when the intention of the testator is contrary to law, morals, or public policy that it cannot be given effect.
Holographic wills, therefore, being usually prepared by one who is not learned in the law, as illustrated in the present case, should be construed more liberally than the ones drawn by an expert, taking into account the circumstances surrounding the execution of the instrument and the intention of the testator. In this regard, the Court is convinced that the document, even if captioned as Kasulatan ng Pag-Aalis ng Mana, was intended by Segundo to be his last testamentary act and was executed by him in accordance with law in the form of a holographic will. Unless the will is probated, the disinheritance cannot be given effect.
With regard to the issue on preterition, the Court believes that the compulsory heirs in the direct line were not preterited in the will. It was, in the Court’s opinion, Segundo’s last expression to bequeath his estate to all his compulsory heirs, with the sole exception of Alfredo. Also, Segundo did not institute an heir to the exclusion of his other compulsory heirs. The mere mention of the name of one of the petitioners, Virginia, in the document did not operate to institute her as the universal heir. Her name was included plainly as a witness to the altercation between Segundo and his son, Alfredo.
Considering that the questioned document is Segundo’s holographic will, and that the law favors testacy over intestacy, the probate of the will cannot be dispensed with. Article 838 of the Civil Code provides that no will shall pass either real or personal property unless it is proved and allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court. Thus, unless the will is probated, the right of a person to dispose of his property may be rendered nugatory.
In view of the foregoing, the trial court, therefore, should have allowed the holographic will to be probated. It is settled that testate proceedings for the settlement of the estate of the decedent take precedence over intestate proceedings for the same purpose.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Orders of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 21, dated August 10, 1999 and October 14, 1999, are set aside. Respondent judge is directed to reinstate and hear SP Proc. No. 99-93396 for the allowance of the holographic will of Segundo Seangio. The intestate case or SP. Proc. No. 98-90870 is hereby suspended until the termination of the aforesaid testate proceedings.
ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
REYNATO S. PUNO
ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ RENATO C. CORONA
Associate Justice Associate Justice
CANCIO C. GARCIA
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the cases were assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
Chairperson, Second Division
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the cases were assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
Records, p. 20.
Id. at 17.
Id. at 63.
Id. at 65.
Id. at 82.
Id. at 96.
Article 783 of the Civil Code states: “A will is an act whereby a person is permitted, with the formalities prescribed by law, to control to a certain degree the disposition of his estate, to take effect after his death.”
Tolentino, Arturo M., “Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines,” Volume III, p. 30.
Id. at 38.
Id. at 37-39.
In a petition to admit a holographic will to probate, the only issues to be resolved are: 1) whether the instrument submitted is, indeed, the decedent’s last will and testament; 2) whether said will was executed in accordance with the formalities prescribed by law; 3) whether the decedent had the necessary testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed; and, 4) whether the execution of the will and its signing were the voluntary acts of the decedents. As a general rule, courts in probate proceedings are limited to pass only upon the extrinsic validity of the will sought to be probated. However, in exceptional circumstances, courts are not powerless to do what the situation constrains them to do, and pass upon certain provisions of the will (Ajero v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 106720, September 15, 1994, 236 SCRA 488).
Supra note 10.
Article 854 of the Civil Code states: “The preterition or omission of one, some, or all of the compulsory heirs in the direct line, whether living at the time of the execution of the will or born after the death of the testator, shall annul the institution of heir; but the devisees and legacies shall be valid insofar as they are not inofficious.
If the omitted compulsory heirs should die before the testator, the institution shall be effectual, without prejudice to the right of representation.”
Article 841 of the Civil Code states: “A will is valid even though it should not contain an institution of an heir, or such institution should not comprise the entire estate, and even though the person so instituted should not accept the inheritance or should be incapacitated to succeed.
In such cases the testamentary dispositions made in accordance with law shall be complied with and the remainder of the estate shall pass to the legal heirs.”
Maninang v. Court of Appeals, No. L-57848, June 19, 1982, 114 SCRA 478.
Cuenco v. Court of Appeals, No. L-24742, October 26, 1973, 53 SCRA 360.
[G.R. No. 150321. March 31, 2005]
ADELINA GUERZON BARCENAS, MAXIMO T. GUERZON SR., MARINA T. GUERZON, GABRIEL T. GUERZON, and ROWEL T. GUERZON, in their Capacity as Heirs to VERONICA TOLENTINO, petitioners, vs. Spouses ANASTACIO TOMAS and CANDIDA CALIBOSO, respondents.
Petitioners are required by the Rules of Court to provide appellate courts with certified true copies of the judgments or final orders that are the subjects of review, as well as the material portions of the record. The reason for such requirement is that these documents and pleadings are needed by the reviewing courts in resolving whether to give due course to petitions. Hence, this requirement cannot be perfunctorily ignored or violated. Failure to comply with it hinders the review of cases on the merits, deprives the appellate courts of definitive bases for their actions, results in frustrating delays, and contributes havoc to the orderly administration of justice.
Before us is a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the October 11, 2001 Resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA), which dismissed the Petition for Review in CA-GR SP No. 66490 because of procedural defects. The Petition for Review before the CA questioned the Decisions of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija and of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 33, of Guimba, Nueva Ecija in Civil Case No. 1695. Petitioners now ask this Court to pass upon these judgments of the lower courts (CA, RTC, and MTC). The MTC’s Decision, which was affirmed by the RTC, disposed as follows:
“WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the [respondents] directing [petitioners]/heirs of Veronica Tolentino including any and all persons acting in their behalf to:
“1. Immediately vacate the one-hectare portion of the property described in Transfer Certificate of Title No. 16390 of the Land Records of Nueva Ecija which was sold to the [respondents] and reconvey or turn over the same to the [respondents] the ownership, possession and occupancy thereof;
“2. To pay moral and exemplary damages of
“3. To pay litigation expenses of
“4. To pay attorney’s fee of
“5. To pay costs of suit.”
A case for recovery of ownership and possession of real property with damages was filed by Respondent Spouses Anastacio Tomas and Candida Caliboso against the heirs of Veronica Tolentino. The Complaint stated, among others, that after the death of her husband, Benedicto Guerzon, Veronica sold to respondents on May 7, 1969, a one-hectare portion of her undivided share in a 14.6-hectare property. Situated in Barangay Paitan Sur, Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, the land was co-owned by her and her ten children. The entire property was registered in her name and that of her late husband and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 16390.
Respondents took possession of the property immediately after the sale. In 1989, however, the couple migrated to the United States, leaving the lot in the possession of Victoriano Tomas, the husband’s brother. On April 13, 1989, the heirs of Veronica executed an Extrajudicial Partition covering the entire property. As a result, a new title was issued in the name of one of the heirs, Maximo Guerzon, who in 1995 wrested possession of the lot from Victoriano Tomas.
During the trial, respondents presented a Deed of Sale (Exhibit “B”) evidencing the sale of the one-hectare lot for
P2,800. Moreover, an Affidavit (Exhibit “C”) showed that Veronica’s children had subsequently confirmed the sale. Petitioners, however, denied knowledge of the two documents and claimed that their signatures on the Affidavit had been forged.
Ruling that respondents had the better right of possession and ownership of the land in question, the Municipal Trial Court of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija held that the sale of the one-hectare portion to them had sufficiently been established by the notarized document of sale and by their continuous possession of the property from 1969 until its interruption by Maximo Guerzon in 1995. The MTC added that the authenticity and genuineness of the Deed of Sale, as well as of the Affidavit confirming it, could not be assailed by mere unsubstantiated denials that the documents were fake. It ordered the defendants to vacate the property immediately and to pay moral damages, litigation expenses, attorney’s fees and the costs of the suit.
On appeal, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 33, of Guimba, Nueva Ecija affirmed the MTC Decision. Petitioners thereafter elevated the case to the CA under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court.
As earlier stated, the CA dismissed the Petition for Review because of the following procedural infirmities: (1) petitioners had merely referred to themselves as the “Heirs of Veronica Tolentino,” instead of stating their full names as required under Section 2(a) of Rule 42; (2) the pleadings filed with the lower court had not been appended to the Petition, contrary to Section 2(d) of Rule 42; and (3) among petitioners, only one had signed the Verification and the Certification of non-forum shopping.
Hence this Petition.
In their Memorandum, petitioners raise the following issues:
”I. Whether or not the challenged Decision dated October 11, 2001 of the Honorable Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66490 should be set aside in the interest of substantial justice [in] view of the facts obtaining in [the] case at bar clearly showing the superior claim of ownership of petitioners as against respondents over the land in question.
“II. Whether or not both the lower courts in Civil Case No. 1695 and 1695-G, respectively, have committed grave and serious error in giving evidentiary weight to the purported Deed of Sale (Exhibit ‘B’) and Affidavit (Exhibit ‘C’) as proof of the alleged sale by the late Veronica Tolentino in favor of respondents Anastacio Tomas [and] Candida Caliboso of the disputed land even if said documentary exhibits have not been properly identified by a competent witness.
“III. Whether or not both the lower courts in Civil Case No. 1695 and 1695-G committed grave and serious error in failing to rule that both Exhibits ‘B’ and ‘C’ are spurious and fictitious documents and therefore cannot transfer to them title or ownership over the land in question.
“IV. Whether or not both the lower courts in Civil Case No. 1695 and 1695-G committed grave and serious error in failing to rule that the purported sale by the late Veronica Tolentino of the disputed land to respondents was null and void because it was without the consent of herein petitioners who are her co-owners of said land.”
In brief, petitioners ask this Court (1) to set aside the CA Resolution “in the interest of substantial justice”; and (2) to review and reverse the RTC and the MTC Decisions, despite the fact that the CA did not pass upon them on their merits.
The Court’s Ruling
The Petition has no merit.
Dismissal Due to Procedural Defects
Assailing the CA’s outright dismissal of their Petition for Review, petitioners contend that they have substantially complied with the procedural requirements, and that their substantive rights would be prejudiced by a strict observance of the rules.
They point out that, with the exception of Patricio, four surviving heirs of Veronica Tolentino executed a Special Power of Attorney giving Adelina Guerzon Barcenas, one of herein petitioners, the right to represent them and to act on their behalf.
As to their failure to attach the material pleadings and other pertinent records, petitioners plead excusable neglect, inadvertence and limited time, as well as the alleged intransigence and uncooperative attitude of the lower courts’ personnel in furnishing them copies of the documents.
As to a petition for review of a decision of the RTC, the requirements as to form and content are laid down in Section 2 of Rule 42 of the Rules of Court, which provides thus:
Sec. 2. Form and contents. - The petition shall be filed in seven (7) legible copies, with the original copy intended for the court being indicated as such by the petitioner, and shall (a) state the full names of the parties to the case, without impleading the lower courts or judges thereof either as petitioners or respondents; (b) indicate the specific material dates showing that it was filed on time; (c) set forth concisely a statement of the matters involved, the issues raised, the specification of errors of fact or law, or both, allegedly committed by the Regional Trial Court, and the reasons or arguments relied upon for the allowance of the appeal; (d) be accompanied by clearly legible duplicate originals or true copies of the judgments or final orders of both lower courts, certified correct by the clerk of court of the Regional Trial Court, the requisite number of plain copies thereof and of the pleadings and other material portions of the record as would support the allegations of the petition.
The petitioner shall also submit together with the petition a certification under oath that he has not theretofore commenced any other action involving the same issues in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or different divisions thereof, or any other tribunal or agency; if there is such other action or proceeding, he must state the status of the same; and if he should thereafter learn that a similar action or proceeding has been filed or is pending before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, or different divisions thereof, of any other tribunal or agency, he undertakes to promptly inform the aforesaid courts and other tribunal or agency thereof within five (5) days therefrom. (Italics supplied)
Under Section 3 of the same Rule, failure to comply with the above requirements “shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal thereof.”
Petition Defective in Form
A review of the Petition for Review easily confirms the defects adverted to by the CA in its assailed October 11, 2001 Resolution. In the title of the Petition, petitioners referred to themselves merely as the “Heirs of Veronica Tolentino,” without stating their full names or the fact that they were represented by Adelina Guerzon Barcenas. This lapse runs counter to the requirement of Section 2(a) of Rule 42, especially because the deficiency could not have been offset by the equally incomplete attachments.
Petitioners do not deny that the pertinent pleadings and portions of the record in support of their allegations were not attached to the Petition as required by Section 2(d) of Rule 42. They attribute this procedural lapse to personal shortcomings, as well as to the purported unwillingness of lower court personnel to provide the needed documents. No proof was adduced to validate these excuses, however.
Worst of all, only Adelina signed the Verification and the Certification of non-forum shopping. She did so despite her admission that, among petitioners, she was the only signatory; and despite the absence of proof that she had authority to sign for the others. Loquias v. Office of the Ombudsman has categorically declared that where there are two or more petitioners, a petition signed by only one of them is defective, unless such signatory has been duly authorized by the co-parties to represent them and to sign the certification. For that matter, the Court notes that the Special Power of Attorney in Adelina’s favor was executed only on November 14, 2001, when the CA Resolution was appealed by certiorari to this Court. It was therefore not intended for the subject CA Petition.
Admittedly, all the infirmities besetting the Petition before the CA affected only its form. In appropriate cases, they have been waived to give the parties a chance to argue their causes and defenses on the merits. To justify the relaxation of the rules, however, a satisfactory explanation and a subsequent fulfillment of the requirements have always been required.
Unfortunately, petitioners have not given any reasonable justification for liberalizing the rules here. As pointed out earlier, because they had not moved for a reconsideration of the CA Resolution -- for which they cited no reason -- they were not able to show reasonable diligence in subsequently complying with the requirements. They must be reminded that except for the most compelling grounds, procedural rules must be strictly complied with to facilitate the orderly administration of justice.
Petitioners are required by the Rules of Court to provide appellate courts with certified true copies of the judgments or final orders that are the subjects of review, as well as the material portions of the record. The reason for such requirement is that these documents and pleadings are needed by the reviewing courts in resolving whether to give due course to petitions. Hence, this requirement cannot be perfunctorily ignored or violated. Failure to comply with it hinders the review of cases on the merits, deprives the appellate courts of definitive bases for their actions, results in frustrating delays, and contributes havoc to the orderly administration of justice.
Review of RTC and MTC Decisions
At the outset, note is taken of petitioners’ error in appealing to this Court factual issues relating to the sale and the ownership of the lot in question. This common and persistent procedural misstep, which has long plagued earlier recourse of this nature, has spelt disaster to many a petition. Thus, for the guidance of the bench and the bar, we now discuss the requirements of appeals under Rule 45.
Section 1 of Rule 45 of the Rules of Court provides:
SECTION 1. Filing of petition with Supreme Court. – A party desiring to appeal by certiorari from a judgment or final order or resolution of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Regional Trial Court or other courts whenever authorized by law, may file with the Supreme Court a verified petition for review on certiorari. The petition shall raise only questions of law which must be distinctly set forth.
Subject of Appeal
Section 1 of Rule 45 clearly states that the following may be appealed to the Supreme Court through a petition for review by certiorari: 1) judgments; 2) final orders; or 3) resolutions of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Regional Trial Court or similar courts, whenever authorized by law. The appeal must involve only questions of law, not of fact.
This Court has, time and time again, pointed out that it is not a trier of facts; and that, save for a few exceptional instances, its function is not to analyze or weigh all over again the factual findings of the lower courts. There is a question of law when doubts or differences arise as to what law pertains to a certain state of facts, and a question of fact when the doubt pertains to the truth or falsity of alleged facts.
Under the principle of the hierarchy of courts, decisions, final orders or resolutions of an MTC should be appealed to the RTC exercising territorial jurisdiction over the former. On the other hand, RTC judgments, final orders or resolutions are appealable to the CA through either of the following: an ordinary appeal if the case was originally decided by the RTC; or a petition for review under Rule 42, if the case was decided under the RTC’s appellate jurisdiction.
Nonetheless, a direct recourse to this Court can be taken for a review of the decisions, final orders or resolutions of the RTC, but only on questions of law. Under Section 5 of Article VIII of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to
(2) Review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and orders of lower courts in:
x x x x x x x x x
(e) All cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.
This kind of direct appeal to this Court of RTC judgments, final orders or resolutions is provided for in Section 2(c) of Rule 41, which reads:
SEC. 2. Modes of appeal. –
x x x x x x x x x
(c) Appeal by certiorari. – In all cases where only questions of law are raised or involved, the appeal shall be to the Supreme Court by petition for review on certiorari in accordance with Rule 45.
Procedurally then, petitioners could have appealed the RTC Decision affirming the MTC (1) to this Court on questions of law only; or (2) if there are factual questions involved, to the CA -- as they in fact did. Unfortunately for petitioners, the CA properly dismissed their petition for review because of serious procedural defects. This action foreclosed their only available avenue for the review of the factual findings of the RTC.
No Factual Challenges to
RTC Decision Before the SC
Petitioners’ plea for a review by the Supreme Court of the Decisions of the RTC and the MTC is untenable. First, the questions raised are factual in nature. To reiterate, only questions of law involved in lower court decisions may be brought directly to this Court. Second, assuming that reversible factual errors were committed by the RTC and the MTC, these should be reviewed and corrected first by the CA, not by this Court, which -- to repeat -- does not review factual findings of the trial courts. For us to do otherwise is to shortcut the procedures. Certainly, such shortcircuiting would stretch the Court’s liberality way beyond the limits of judicial discretion.
Moreover, the argument that this Court should reverse the factual findings because certain facts or circumstances of import have allegedly been overlooked or misinterpreted by the lower courts is unavailing. That kind of review is done only with regard to factual findings of the CA -- and there are none here -- not of the RTC or the MTC.
Finally, to satisfy the incessant call of petitioners for a factual review, the Court -- despite the foregoing invocations -- nonetheless looked over the records. It found no adequate basis for their claims. We shall now run through the issues.
First, the evidence did not show that petitioners had presented strong, complete, and conclusive proof that the notarized Deed of Sale was false. Without that sort of evidence, the presumption of regularity, the evidentiary weight conferred upon such public document with respect to its execution, as well as the statements and the authenticity of the signatures thereon, stand.
Second, no evidence was presented to establish the fact that the Affidavit confirming the sale (Exhibit “C”) had been forged. Forgery cannot be presumed. Whoever alleges it must prove it by clear and convincing evidence.
Third, the sale of the undivided share of Veronica Tolentino was valid even without the consent of the other co-owners. Both law and jurisprudence have categorically held that even while an estate remains undivided, co-owners have each full ownership of their respective aliquots or undivided shares and may therefore alienate, assign or mortgage them. Here, the one-hectare portion sold to respondents was very much less than the ideal share of Tolentino consisting of her conjugal partnership share of one half of the 14.6-hectare lot (or 7.3 hectares) plus her equal share of 1/11 (0.66 hectare) of the other half.
In sum, the Court has bent over backwards and patiently given this case more than adequate review and found absolutely no basis to reverse or modify the Decisions of the three lower courts.
WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED and the assailed Resolution AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioners.
Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
 The Petition included the “HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS” as a respondent. However, under §4 of Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, the CA should no longer be impleaded in a petition for review under Rule 45. Hence, the CA is now excluded from the title of this case.
 Rollo, pp. 7-29.
 Seventh Division. Penned by Justice Godardo A. Jacinto (Division chair) and concurred in by Justices Bernardo P. Abesamis and Eliezer R. de los Santos (members).
 CA Resolution, p. 2; rollo, p. 31. The procedural defects will be discussed later.
 Rollo, pp. 63-70.
 Id., pp. 72-75.
 MTC Decision, p. 8; rollo, p. 70.
 The facts are culled from the MTC Decision dated November 26, 1999, pp. 1-6; rollo, pp. 63-68.
 The Petition was deemed submitted for decision on January 15, 2004, upon the Court’s receipt of respondents’ Memorandum, signed by Atty. Efren M. G. Bascos of Bascos and Associates Law Office. Petitioners’ Memorandum, signed by Atty. Felix B. Lerio, was received by this Court on January 5, 2004.
 Petitioners’ Memorandum, pp. 5-6; rollo, p. 285-286. Original in upper case.
 This argument was pleaded by petitioners in their Petition, filed on October 30, 2002. The same issue was, however, not reiterated in their Memorandum dated January 15, 2004.
 392 Phil. 596, 603-604, August 15, 2000 (cited in Gudoy v. Guadalquiver, GR No. 151136, May 27, 2004, p. 5).
 Rollo, p. 91.
 Torres v. Specialized Packaging Development Corp., GR No. 149634, July 6, 2004, pp. 1 & 16-18.
 El Reyno Homes, Inc. v. Ong; supra, p. 572.
 See also Spouses Firme v. Bukal Enterprises and Development Corporation, 414 SCRA 190, 201, October 23, 2003; Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. v. Wong, 412 Phil. 207, 216, June 26, 2001; Batingal v. CA, 351 SCRA 60, 66, February 1, 2001.
 Sps. Calvo v. Sps. Vergara, 423 Phil. 939, 947, December 19, 2001 (citing Reyes v. CA, 328 Phil. 171, 179, July 11, 1996; China Road and Bridge Corporation v. CA, 348 SCRA 401, 408, December 15, 2000).
 §1 of Rule 40 of the Rules of Court.
 §2(a) of Rule 41 of the Rules of Court.
 §2(b) of Rule 41.
 Errors of fact or law, or both may be raised in a petition for review under Rule 42. §2(c) of this Rule, which provides the form and content of a petition for review from the RTC to the CA, states that the petition shall
(c) set forth concisely a statement of the matters involved, the issues raised, the specification of errors of fact or law, or both, allegedly committed by the Regional Trial Court, and the reasons or arguments relied upon for the allowance of the appeal.
 Proof of this nature is needed to overcome the presumption of regularity that is accorded to a notarized instrument. Here, what appeared on record were petitioners’ bare denials, but nothing more. In contrast, it was established by the testimony of respondents’ witness Adriano Diaz, an eyewitness to the execution of the Deed of Sale, that this Deed was the same document executed by Veronica Tolentino and respondents in 1969. See Yason v. Arciaga, GR No. 145017, January 28, 2005, p. 17 (citing Chilianchin v. Coquinco, 84 Phil. 714, 718, October 12, 1949; Jimenez v. Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; 432 Phil. 895, 909, June 10, 2002).
 Diaz’s unrebutted testimony, in particular, unveiled the fallacy of petitioners’ contention that Notary Public Justiniano Domingo had served as both witness to and notarizing officer of the document. Clear and categorical was his testimony that Jun Domingo, the other witness signing the document, was not the same Justiniano Domingo who had notarized the Deed of Sale in May 1969. Transcript of Stenographic Notes, August 19, 1999, pp. 5-6; rollo, pp. 183-184.
 Under §19(b), Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, “documents notarized before a notary public except last wills and testaments” are public documents.
 Potenciano v. Reynoso (supra, p. 398); Jimenez v. Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (supra, p. 911); Basilio v. CA, 346 SCRA 321, 324, November 29, 2000; Lao v. Villones-Lao, 366 Phil. 49, 58, April 29, 1999. §30 of Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides:
“SEC. 30. Proof of notarial documents. – Every instrument duly acknowledged or proved and certified as provided by law, may be presented in evidence without further proof, the certificate of acknowledgment being prima facie evidence of the execution of the instrument or document involved.”
 Other than denying they signed the Affidavit, Maximo, Gabriel, Marina and Patricio Guerzon did not even try to establish the fact of forgery by comparing the allegedly false signatures on Exhibit “C” with their authentic signatures; or by summoning the assistance of handwriting experts. Questions over Veronica Tolentino’s alleged use of a thumbprint are also of no moment. One may, even though able to read and write, affix one’s signature to a document with a cross, a mark or a thumbprint. (See Yason v. Arciaga; supra, p. 15). Furthermore, there is no evidence that would show that Veronica Tolentino was forced or coerced to affix her thumbmark on the Deed of Sale.
 Jimenez v. Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (supra, p. 904); American Express International v. CA, 367 Phil. 333, 341, June 8, 1999 (citing Tenio-Obsequio v. CA, 230 SCRA 550, 558, March 1, 1994).
 Basilio v. CA, supra.
 Article 493 of the Civil Code states:
“Each co-owner shall have the full ownership of his part and of the fruits pertaining thereto, and he may therefore alienate, assign or mortgage it, and even substitute another person in its enjoyment, except when personal rights are involved. But the effect of the alienation or mortgage, with respect to the co-owners, shall be limited to the portion which may be allotted to him in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership.”
 Heirs of Balite v. Lim, GR No. 152168, December 10, 2004, p. 19; Del Campo v. CA, 351 SCRA 1, 7, February 1, 2001; Tomas Claudio Memorial College, Inc. v. CA, 374 Phil. 859, 865, October 12, 1999.
 However, the sale or mortgage is limited only to the portion that may be allotted to him upon the termination of the co-ownership; he cannot sell a specific or determinate part of it. Such sale effectively transfers to the buyer the seller’s ideal share in the co-ownership, thereby making the former a co-owner of the property.
 Under Article 996 of the Civil Code, “the surviving spouse has in the succession the same share as that of each of the children” if she and legitimate children are left. Accordingly, Veronica Tolentino gets the same share as that of each of the 10 children.