Tecson v. Minerva (G.R. No.180683; June 1, 2011)

Sometime in 1945, Atty. Agustin Fausto (Atty. Fausto) acquired in co-ownership with his sister, Waldetrudes Fausto-Nadela (Waldetrudes), Lot 2189--a one thousand fifteen (1,015) square meter parcel of land situated at Jose Zulueta Street corner National Highway in Pagadian City, Zamboanga Del Sur. In 1953, Atty. Fausto constructed his house on a portion of the said lot.

In 1970, following a cadastral proceeding, Atty. Fausto and Waldetrudes were recognized as co-owners of Lot 2189.

Atty. Fausto and Waldetrudes formalized their decision to subdivide Lot 2189 by executing an Agreement of Partition.Under this agreement (First Partition Agreement), Waldetrudes was to be given absolute ownership over Lot 2189-A, while Atty. Fausto was to be conferred separate dominion over Lot 2189-B. The First Partition Agreement, however, was never registered with the Register of Deeds.

Subsequently, Waldetrudes entered into a Contract to Sellwith herein petitioner Aurora L. Tecson (Aurora).In it, Waldetrudes undertook to sell, among others, her "ideal share" in Lot 2189 to Aurora upon full payment of the purchase price.

Engr. Aguilar prepared a second subdivision plan (Second Plan)for Lot 2189.The Second Plan, designated as Psd-268803, drastically altered the division of Lot 2189 under the First Plan.

A second partition over Lot 2189 (Second Partition Agreement)was executed between the respondents in their capacity as heirs of Atty. Fausto on one hand, and Waldetrudes on the other. Presumably with the Second Plan as a new basis, the agreement named Waldetrudes as the owner of Lot 2189-B while the respondents were allocated Lot 2189-A.

Waldetrudes sold Lot 2189-B, with an area of nine hundred sixty-four (964) square meters, to Aurora.

Meanwhile, it would seem that the Register of Deeds had refused registration of the Second Partition Agreement in view of the fact that several of the respondents, namely Jose, Romualdo, Elizabeth and Victor were still minors. The guardianship court granted Isabel's Petitionand issued an Order approving the Second Partition Agreement.

Seven (7) years after, respondents filed a Complaintfor the Declaration of Nullity of Documents, Titles, Reconveyance and Damages against Waldetrudes and the petitioners before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pagadian City.In essence, the respondents seek the recovery of four hundred fifty-seven (457) square meters of land from TCT No. T-4,342, which they believe was unlawfully taken from the lawful share of their predecessor-in-interest, Atty. Fausto, in Lot 2189.

Verily, Waldetrudes could not have sold more than her rightful share of only five hundred seven (507) square meters. The respondents, thus, ask for the nullification of the sale of Lot 2189-B to the petitioners, at least with respect to the excess amounting to four hundred fifty-seven (457) square meters.

In the same vein, the respondents impugn the validity and binding effect of the Second Plan and the ensuing Second Partition Agreement.They denounce the said plan and agreement as mere handiworks of respondent Atty. Tecson himself in a fraudulent scheme to get a lion's share of Lot 2189.

The RTC dismissed the complaint of the respondents. The trial court found no merit in the position of the respondents and considered the petitioners to be innocent purchasers for value of Lot 2189-B.

ISSUE: May respondents recover the four hundred fifty-seven square meters of land registered in the name of petitioner Atty. Tecson?

HELD: After reviewing the arguments and evidence presented in this case, We rule that Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto are, indeed, co-owners of Lot 2189.Moreover, We hold that the siblings have equal shares in the said lot.

The mother title of Lot 2189, OCT No. 734, states in no unclear terms that Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto were co-owners of the subject lot.The inscription in the original title for Lot 2189 carries more than sufficient weight to prove the existence of a co-ownership between Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto. Other than the bare assertion of the petitioners, there is absolutely no proof on record that Waldetrudes was the sole beneficial owner of Lot 2189.Tax Declaration No. 6521 simply cannot prevail over OCT No. 734 as conclusive evidence of the true ownership of Lot 2189.

During the cadastral proceeding involving Lot 2189, Waldetrudes herself stated that Atty. Fausto was a co-owner of the subject lot.

There was likewise no evidence behind the petitioners' allegation that the registered co-ownership between Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto was based on their actual occupancy of Lot 2189.On the contrary, OCT No. 734 categorically states that Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto are co-owners "in undivided share" of Lot 2189. The conspicuous silence of OCT No. 734 as to the definite extent of the respective shares of Atty. Fausto and Waldetrudes in Lot 2189 gives rise to a presumption that they are in equal measure.

The equality in terms of share in Lot 2189, was affirmed by Waldetrudes when she testified in open court.

The Second Partition Agreement is null and void as an absolute simulation, albeit induced by a third party.The fraud perpetrated by Atty. Tecson did more than to vitiate the consent of Waldetrudes and the respondents.It must be emphasized that Waldetrudes and the respondents never had any intention of entering into a new partition distinct from the First Partition Agreement. The established facts reveal that Waldetrudes and the respondents assented to the Second Partition Agreement because Atty. Tecson told them that the instrument was merely required to expedite the sale of Waldetrudes' share.

In other words, the deceit employed by Atty. Tecson goes into the very nature of the Second Partition Agreement and not merely to its object or principal condition.Evidently, there is an absence of a genuine intent on the part of the co-owners to be bound under a new partition proposing a new division of Lot 2189.The apparent consent of Waldetrudes and the respondents to the Second Partition Agreement is, in reality, totally wanting.For that reason, the Second Partition Agreement is null and void.

Being the one behind the execution of the Second Partition Agreement, there is no doubt that Atty. Tecson knew that Lot 2189 was owned in common by Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto. This, taken together with the instrument's unusual silence as to the definite area allotted for each component lot and the Second Plan, reveals a deliberate attempt on the part of Atty. Tecson to conceal from Waldetrudes and the respondents the unequal division of Lot 2189.

The necessity to conceal the disproportionate division of Lot 2189 can only be explained by Atty. Tecson's prior knowledge that such a partition is inherently defective for being contrary to the actual sharing between Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto.Atty. Tecson is clearly in bad faith. Waldetrudes and Atty. Fausto.Atty. Tecson is clearly in bad faith.

Verily, Atty. Tecson cannot be considered as an innocent purchaser of the excess area of Lot 2189-B.Based on the facts and circumstances prevailing in this case, Atty. Tecson may be charged with actual notice of the defect plaguing the Second Partition Agreement. The respondents may, therefore, recover. DENIED.