Case Digest: Pana vs. Heirs of Juanite, Sr.

G.R. No. 164201 : December 10, 2012

EFREN PANA, Petitioner, v. HEIRS OF JOSE JUANITE, SR., and JOSE JUANITE, JR., Respondents.



Efren Pana (Efren), herein petitioner, his wife Melecia, and another person, were charged with murder before the RTC of Surigao City. On July 9, 1997, the RTC rendered its Decision acquitting Efren of the charge but finding Melecia and another person guilty as charged and sentenced them to the penalty of death. The RTC also ordered those found guilty to pay civil indemnity and damages to the heirs of the victim.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, it affirmed the conviction of both accused but modified the penalty to reclusion perpetua. With respect to the monetary awards, the Court also affirmed the award of civil indemnity and damages with modification.

Upon motion for execution by the heirs of the deceased, the RTC ordered the issuance of the writ, resulting in the levy of real properties registered in the names of Efren and Melecia.

Hence, Efren and his wife Melecia filed a motion to quash the writ of execution, claiming that the levied properties were conjugal assets, not paraphernal assets of Melecia. The RTC denied the motion. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the CA dismissed the petition.

Thus, Efren filed the instant petition arguing that his marriage with Melecia falls under the regime of conjugal partnership of gains, given that they were married prior to the enactment of the Family Code and that they did not execute any prenuptial agreement.

On the other hand, the heirs argued that the regime of absolute community of property governs the marriage of Efren and Melecia since the transitory provision of the Family Code gave its provisions retroactive effect if no vested or acquired rights are impaired, and that the property relation between the couple was changed when the Family Code took effect in 1988.

ISSUE: Whether or not the conjugal properties of spouses Efren and Melecia can be levied and executed upon for the satisfaction of Melecia’s civil liability in the murder case?

HELD: Court of Appeals is affirmed with modification.

CIVIL LAW: conjugal partnership of gains (CPG); fines and pecuniary indemnities chargeable to CPG

While it is true that the personal stakes of each spouse in their conjugal assets are inchoate or unclear prior to the liquidation of the conjugal partnership of gains and, therefore, none of them can be said to have acquired vested rights in specific assets, it is evident that Article 256 of the Family Code does not intend to reach back and automatically convert into absolute community of property relation all conjugal partnerships of gains that existed before 1988 excepting only those with prenuptial agreements.

The Family Code itself provides in Article 76 that marriage settlements cannot be modified except prior to marriage. Clearly, therefore, the conjugal partnership of gains that governed the marriage between Efren and Melecia who were married prior to 1988 cannot be modified except before the celebration of that marriage. Post-marriage modification of such settlements can take place only where: (a) the absolute community or conjugal partnership was dissolved and liquidated upon a decree of legal separation; (b) the spouses who were legally separated reconciled and agreed to revive their former property regime; (c) judicial separation of property had been had on the ground that a spouse abandons the other without just cause or fails to comply with his obligations to the family; (d) there was judicial separation of property under Article 135; (e) the spouses jointly filed a petition for the voluntary dissolution of their absolute community or conjugal partnership of gains. None of these circumstances exists in the case of Efren and Melecia.

What is more, under the conjugal partnership of gains established by Article 142 of the Civil Code, the husband and the wife place only the fruits of their separate property and incomes from their work or industry in the common fund. This means that they continue under such property regime to enjoy rights of ownership over their separate properties. Consequently, to automatically change the marriage settlements of couples who got married under the Civil Code into absolute community of property in 1988 when the Family Code took effect would be to impair their acquired or vested rights to such separate properties.

The civil indemnity that the decision in the murder case imposed on Melecia may be enforced against their conjugal assets after the responsibilities enumerated in Article 121 of the Family Code have been covered. Article 121 allows payment of the criminal indemnities imposed on his wife, Melecia, out of the partnership assets even before these are liquidated. Indeed, it states that such indemnities “may be enforced against the partnership assets after the responsibilities enumerated in the preceding article have been covered.” No prior liquidation of those assets is required. This is not altogether unfair since Article 122 states that “at the time of liquidation of the partnership, such offending spouse shall be charged for what has been paid for the purposes above-mentioned.”

CA affirmed with modification. The RTC of Surigao City, Branch 30, shall first ascertain that, in enforcing the writ of execution on the conjugal properties of spouses Efren and Melecia Pana for the satisfaction of the indemnities imposed by final judgment on the latter accused in Criminal Cases 4232 and 4233, the responsibilities enumerated in Article 121 of the Family Code have been covered.