Limited jurisdiction; special proceedings

[T]here lies a marked distinction between an action and a special proceeding. An action is a formal demand of one's right in a court of justice in the manner prescribed by the court or by the law. It is the method of applying legal remedies according to definite established rules. The term special proceeding" may be defined as an application or proceeding to establish the status or right of a party, or a particular fact. Usually, in special proceedings, no formal pleadings are required unless the statute expressly so provides. In special proceedings, the remedy is granted generally upon an application or motion.

Citing American Jurisprudence, a noted authority in Remedial Law expounds further:

It may accordingly be stated generally that actions include those proceedings which are instituted and prosecuted according to the ordinary rules and provisions relating to actions at law or suits in equity, and that special proceedings include those proceedings which are not ordinary in this sense, but is instituted and prosecuted according to some special mode as in the case of proceedings commenced without summons and prosecuted without regular pleadings, which are characteristics of ordinary actions. XXX A special proceeding must therefore be in the nature of a distinct and independent proceeding for particular relief, such as may be instituted independently of a pending action, by petition or motion upon notice.

Applying these principles, an action for reconveyance and annulment of title with damages is a civil action, whereas matters relating to settlement of the estate of a deceased person such as advancement of property made by the decedent, partake of the nature of a special proceeding, which concomitantly requires the application of specific rules as provided for in the Rules of Court.

Clearly, matters which involve settlement and distribution of the estate of the decedent fall within the exclusive province of the probate court in the exercise of its limited jurisdiction.

Thus, under Section 2, Rule 90 of the Rules of Court, questions as to advancement made or alleged to have been made by the deceased to any heir may be heard and determined by the court having jurisdiction of the estate proceedings; and the final order of the court thereon shall be binding on the person raising the questions and on the heir.
While it may be true that the Rules used the word "may", it is nevertheless clear that the same provision contemplates a probate court when it speaks of the "court having jurisdiction of the estate proceedings".

Francisco, V.J., Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines, Vol. V-A, 1970 ed., p. 596 citing 1 CJS 1094-1095.
Natcher v. CA. Supreme Court of the Philippines via Justice Buena. G.R. No. 133000. October 2, 2001.