G.R. No. 184944. August 23, 2017

[G.R. No. 184944. August 23, 2017] RAYMOND H. TIONGSON, PETITIONER, V. SPS. ALEXANDER TRINIDAD & CECILIA CASTILLO-TRINIDAD, RESPONDENTS. G.R. No. 184944 (RAYMOND H. TIONGSON, Petitioner, v. SPS. ALEXANDER TRINIDAD & CECILIA CASTILLO-TRINIDAD, Respondents.

FACTS: It appearing that the copy of the Resolution dated February 22, 2017 which noted the transmittal letter of the Court of Appeals (CA) elevating to this Court the CA rollo of this case, addressed to counsel for petitioner, was returned unserved with postal carrier's notation "RTS- Moved" on the envelope, the Court SERVES upon petitioner himself a copy of the Resolution of February 22, 2017 and all subsequent court processes.

This case originated from a petition for the issuance of an owner's duplicate copy of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 58192 of the Registry of Deeds of Rizal filed by the respondents in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 268, in Pasig City.[1] The RTC granted the petition, but the petitioner challenged the result.

The CA summarized the factual and procedural antecedents as follows:
Sometime in July of 2005, the petitioners spouses Alexander and Cecilia Trinidad filed before the respondent court a petition for the issuance of a new owner's duplicate copy of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 58192 on the ground that the same had been stolen. The subject title was then registered under the name of Wilfredo S. Tiongson (now deceased) who allegedly sold the property to the petitioners spouses during his lifetime.

In support of the petition filed before the respondent court, the petitioners spouses presented as evidence a photocopy of the Deed of Sale executed on 13 May 2004 and a certified true copy of TCT No. 58192.

After due compliance with the requirements of the law as to notice, posting and publication, and there being no opposition to the petition, the respondent court received the evidence of the petitioners spouses ex parte. On the basis of the evidence formally offered by the petitioners spouses, the respondent court rendered judgment granting the issuance of a new owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192. The dispositive portion of the Decision of the respondent court dated 21 September 2005 reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, the owner's duplicate copy of TCT NO. 58192 is hereby declared null and void and of no force and effect. The Register of Deeds for the City of Pasig is hereby directed to issue a new Owner's Duplicate copy of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 58192 based on the original thereof on file in his office. Said Owner's Duplicate shall contain a memorandum of the fact that it was issued in lieu of the lost duplicate and it shall, in all respect, be entitled to like faith and credit as the original, for all intents and purposes.

Petitioner shall pay all legal fees in connection with the issuance of a new owner's copy.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the petitioner, the Registry of Deeds for the City of Pasig, the Office of the Solicitor General and the Pasig Prosecutor's Office.

SO ORDERED.
There being no appeal or motion for reconsideration filed against the decision of the respondent court, Entry of Judgment was issued on 04 January 2006.

On 23 January 2006, private respondent Raymond Tiongson, a legitimate child of the late Wilfredo Tiongson, filed a "Motion to Set Aside Decision" before the respondent court. He claimed that the owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192 still exists and is currently in possession of the legitimate heirs of the late Wilfredo Tiongson. He alleged that the purported deed of sale between the petitioners spouses and his father was the product of a forgery as no sale ever took place in reality. Finally, private respondent argued that the order for the issuance of an owner's duplicate copy in lieu of the lost one is null and void where it appears that the previous one still exists.

In an Order dated 28 August 2006, the respondent court directed the parties to submit their respective Memoranda within a period of fifteen (15) days from receipt of a copy of the order. After the lapse of the period given, only private respondent complied with the order and submitted his Memorandum on 21 September 2006.

In the Order dated 27 November 2006, the respondent court treated the motion as a "Petition for Relief from Judgment" under Rule 38, Section 1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Taking into account that the original duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192 still exists and is in the possession of the heirs of the late Wilfredo Tiongson, the respondent court granted the motion to set aside the judgment.[2]
In the aforestated order of November 27, 2006, the RTC justified the setting aside of its previous decision thusly:
xxx [Respondents] Trinidad failed to controvert movant's assertion of intrinsic fraud in obtaining the judgment of the Court dated September 21, 2005 by claiming that the said title was lost and can no longer be located despite diligent effort[,] and having been established that the original duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192 is still existing and in possession of the heirs of the late Wilfredo Tiongson, the Court resolves to grant the motion to set aside judgment.[3]
Decision of the CA

The respondents assailed the order of November 27, 2006 by petition for certiorari, docketed as C.A.-G.R. SP No. 99794, alleging that the RTC had thereby gravely abused its discretion in treating the petitioner's motion as a petition for relief from judgment under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court, and in consequently recalling the previous decision.

On August 15, 2008,[4] the CA promulgated its assailed decision granting the petition for certiorari. It opined that the grounds upon which the remedy under Rule 38 could be brought were fraud, accident, mistake, or excusable negligence; that the petitioner (Tiongson), in filing his motion in the RTC, merely asserted that the document sought to be reconstituted had not been actually lost; that nowhere in the motion were any of the grounds for a resort to Rule 38 alleged; and that nonetheless the RTC still justified the granting of relief from judgment on the existence of intrinsic fraud.

The CA clarified that the fraud contemplated under Rule 38 referred to extrinsic, not intrinsic, fraud; that what the petitioner (Tiongson) sought to establish and what the RTC held was that the reconstituted title was void, and that the RTC had no jurisdiction over the petition because of the existence of the original duplicate copy of the TCT in the possession of the heirs of Wilfredo Tiongson; that lack of jurisdiction was not one of the grounds for granting relief from judgment under Rule 38; that although the RTC held that petitioner Tiongson had substantiated the existence of the owner's duplicate TCT, he did not even attach a copy of such TCT to his motion; and that his failure to present such copy in the RTC constituted a failure to substantiate the allegation that such TCT was still in existence.ISSUE: Did the CA err in ruling that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in recalling its judgment directing the issuance of the new owner's duplicate copy of the TCT in question?

HELD: The petition for review on certiorari lacks merit. No, the CA did not err in reversing the RTC.

The CA correctly held that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in granting the motion to set aside its previous judgment. The RTC had based its ruling on the finding that the respondents had employed intrinsic fraud in order to obtain a favorable ruling. Specifically, the RTC had held that the original duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192 was then still existing and in the possession of the heirs of Wilfredo Tiongson, contrary to the claim of the respondents that the original duplicate copy of the TCT had been lost and could no longer be located despite diligent effort.

Intrinsic fraud refers to the acts of a party at a trial that prevented a fair and just determination of the case, but the difference is that the acts or things, like falsification and false testimony, could have been litigated and determined at the trial or adjudication of the case; it does not deprive the petitioner of his day in court because he can guard against that kind of fraud.[5] On the other hand, the fraud that will justify a petition for relief from judgment is extrinsic fraud, or that kind of fraud which the prevailing party caused to prevent the losing party from being heard on his action or defense.[6]

The fraud alleged by the petitioner and relied upon by the RTC as basis for granting the relief under Rule 38 was the claim that the original owner's duplicate of TCT No. 58192 was still existing. This, according to the RTC, was intrinsic fraud, because it went into the merits of the case rather than affecting Tiongson's right to be heard. The CA was correct in saying, therefore, that the RTC was gravely mistaken in granting relief under Rule 38 on such basis.

The petitioner contends that he alleged in his motion in the RTC that the respondents had tried to conceal the proceedings from him and had failed to duly inform the heirs of Wilfredo Tiongson of their petition. As such, he insists, he sufficiently alleged extrinsic fraud in his motion. However, his contention was irrelevant to the question of whether or not the RTC had committed grave abuse of discretion, because the matter of extrinsic fraud, while alleged, was sufficiently proven, given that the RTC itself did not use it as the basis for rendering its questioned order.

In treating his motion to set aside the decision as a petition for relief from judgment, Tiongson submits that the RTC merely exercised its inherent power to preserve its integrity, maintain its dignity, and insure effectiveness in the administration of justice. But while courts possess the power to correct their own errors, such inherent power should be exercised only before the finality of the decisions or orders sought to be corrected.[7] It is notable that the September 21, 2005 order had already attained finality, and the RTC had meanwhile issued an entry of judgment by the time the petitioner filed his motion.

The petitioner tries to hurdle this obstacle by pointing out that the September 21, 2005 order, being null and void, did not attain finality. He Q cites Strait Times, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,[8] in which the Court held that "if a certificate of title has not been lost, but is in fact in the possession of another person, then the reconstituted title is void and the court that rendered the decision had no jurisdiction."

Although the RTC found that the owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 58192 was still in existence, such finding was rebuffed by the CA on the ground that the petitioner had not actually submitted the original owner's duplicate TCT to the RTC to substantiate his claim. Whether or not the existence of the TCT was duly established by the evidence was a question of fact not proper in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Thus, the Court adopts the findings of the CA on the matter. Although there are instances in which the findings of fact by the CA can be reviewed in this mode of appeal, doing so is no longer necessary at this stage. The point of the petitioner in insisting that the heirs of Wilfredo Tiongson still had in their possession the owner's duplicate copy of the TCT was to support his position that the RTC had no jurisdiction over the petition for the issuance of the new TCT. However, the RTC granted relief from judgment not on the basis of lack of jurisdiction, but on the sole ground of intrinsic fraud, albeit not a ground for granting relief from judgment. It was precisely for such reason that the CA justifiably ruled that the RTC had committed grave abuse of discretion.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision and resolution promulgated on August 15, 2008 and October 17, 2008 in CA-G.R. SP No. 99794; and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.

SUGGESTED READINGS:
[1] Pinausukan Seafood House, Roxas Boulevard, Inc. v. Far East Bank & Trust Company, now Bank of the Philippine Islands, G.R. No. 159926, January 20,2014, 714 SCRA 226,243-244.
[2] AFP Mutual Benefit Association, Inc. v. Regional Trial Court, Marikina City, Branch 193, G.R. No. 183906, February 14, 2011, 642 SCRA 720, 727.
[3] Phil. Long Distance Telephone Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 57079, September 29, 1989, 178 SCRA 94, 103.
[4] G.R. No. 126673, August 28, 1998, 294 SCRA 714, 724, citing Serra Serra v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 34080, March 22, 1991, 195 SCRA 482, 493-494.

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