G.R. No. 232758. January 31, 2018

CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 232758, January 31, 2018 ]. ARTURO M. DE CASTRO VS. LEGITIMATE WAWA NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION, INC. De Castro v. Legitimate Wawa (G.R. No. 232758, January 31, 2018).

The Facts

The facts as found by the CA are as follows:
The present controversy emanated from a complaint for the annulment of a deed of sale and cancellation of title instituted by Mario Bunyi, Pio Abas and Vidal Magpantay, in representation of the Legitimate Wawa Neighborhood Association, Inc. (LEWANA, for brevity) against Arturo De Castro, Gener Timbol, and/or the Heirs of Ignacio Bunye and Wawa Aplaya Neighborhood Association, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as WANA) over a real property consisting of 7,360 square meters located in Muntinlupa City. 
On December 19, 2006, the trial court rendered its Decision (Civil Case No. 96-106), the fallo of which is hereunder reproduced, thus -
"PREMISES CONSIDERED, the alleged sale, if there is such, since no document was exhibited purporting to be a transfer from the late Ignacio Bunyi to Beatriz de Mesa de Gonzales, executed after his death, is hereby declared null and void, it did not confer any right to the parcels of land in favor of Beatriz de Mesa de Gonzales. Consequently, the transfer from Beatriz de Mesa de Gonzales to Gener Timbol and De Castro are also not legally warranted since Beatriz de Mesa de Gonzales did not acquire any right that she could transfer to anyone is likewise declared null and void. The title appears also to be spurious as the document of sale was notarized by a notary public who had no commission to so notarize that document, hence not being a public instrument, is not registrable and cannot be a basis for the issuance of any valid title. The water cannot rise higher than its source. 
The members of the WAWA APLAYA NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION, INC., being without authority, without permission from the true and lawful owners, to occupy or possess any portion thereof, should surrender possession to the plaintiffs, and vacate the premises. 
The title of Beatriz de Mesa, TCT No. 44420 including that of Gener Timbol and Arturo de Castro, TCT No. 184801, should all be reconveyed to the legitimate owners, the heirs of Ignacio Bunyi, Sr., who lawfully acquired the same by inheritance. 
The COMPROMISE AGREEMENT between [p]laintiff and the heirs of Ignacio Bunyi, Jr., who are also co-heirs of Ignacio Bunyi, Sr. and therefore are co-owners of his estate, is hereby conferred. They may remain in the premises as such co-owners. 
As plaintiff was forced to litigate thru counsel, attorney's fees is adjudged unilaterally, jointly and severally againt Beatriz de Mesa, Arturo De Castro and Gener Timbol in the sum of FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (Php500,000.00). 
Cost of litigation is also adjudged to them. 
No pronouncement as to damages as none have been proved. 
It is SO ORDERED."
Arturo De Castro, et al. appealed the foregoing judgment of the trial court to the Court of Appeals but the appeal was dismissed in a Decision dated September 28, 2011 (CA G.R. CV No. 88895). 
Undaunted by the setback before the courts, Arturo De Castro took recourse to the Supreme Court via a petition for review on certiorari. In a Resolution of the High Tribunal dated July 1, 2013, however, the appeal was likewise denied for failure to sufficiently show any reversible error in the assailed judgment (G.R. No. 202825). Thus, the Decision of the court a quo has become final and executory.
WANA and Arturo De Castro filed the present Petition for Annulment of Judgment before the CA pleading that the December 19, 2006 Decision be nullified on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and extrinsic fraud. They interposed the following arguments in support thereof -
1. Beatriz De Mesa, who purchased the property in question from Ignacio Bunyi in 1941 was not impleaded as an indispensable party to the case. 
2. Beatriz De Mesa is guilty of fraud in the purchase of the property from Ignacio Bunyi and on this basis, she, together with petitioners were found liable for P500,000.00 as attorney's fees. 
3. There was no allegation in the complaint that the sale transaction between Beatriz De Mesa and Arturo De Castro and Gener Timbol was tainted with fraud. Neither was it alleged therein that the latter had knowledge of the infirmities of the title of Beatriz De Mesa. 
4. The judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are null and void for non-payment of docket fee on the part of LEWANA. This is apparent from the failure to attach to the complaint the tax declaration where the fair market value of the property should have been the basis of the Clerk of Court in setting the correct docket fee. Resultantly, LEWANA only paid nominal filing fees. 
5. Lack of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceedings. 
6. The questioned decision of the court a quo violates the principles of laches and prescription relative to the indefeasibility of the Torrens title and the eviction of the members of WANA from the property. 
7. RTC Judge Perello, who allegedly realized that she committed grave injustice to the members of WANA, advised Atty. De Castro as counsel for WANA to take appropriate action to protect the rights of the WANA members, like the securing of a temporary restraining order or writ of injunction to enjoin the execution of the subject decision. 
8. As to the Decision of the appellate court, Justice Vicente Veloso, who was one of the members of the Division that decided the matter on appeal, is known to Atty. De Castro to influence and issue biased decisions. He contended that in one of the cases he handled, Justice Veloso rendered a judgment even before the record of the case was forwarded to him. Petitioners further argue that Justice Carpio had also bias and prejudice when he prevented the review of the subject decision by the Supreme Court as evidenced by the Resolution of the High Court dated July 1, 2013 which denied due course to the petition for certiorari.
On June 10, 2015, the CA rendered the assailed Resolution dismissing the Petition for the annulment of the RTC Decision dated December 19, 2006. Petitioner moved for a reconsideration of this Resolution but was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated July 19, 2017. Hence, the instant petition.

Issue

Whether the RTC Decision dated December 19, 2006 should be annulled.

Ruling of the Court

The petition has no merit.

The grounds for a Petition for Annulment of Judgment are provided under Section 2, Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, to wit:
Section 2. Grounds for annulment. — The annulment may be based only on the grounds of extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction. 
Extrinsic fraud shall not be a valid ground if it was availed of, or could have been availed of, in a motion for new trial or petition for relief.
First, petitioner argues that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to render its assailed Decision for failure to implead Beatriz De Mesa.To recall, it was found by the CA in CA-G.R. CV No. 88895 that the subject property was originally owned by Torquato Bunyi and then was inherited by his lone heir, Ignacio Bunyi. Ignacio died on February 3, 1941. Some ten months later, a Deed of Sale was purportedly executed by Ignacio in favor of Beatriz De Mesa. Such sale was registered and resulted in the issuance of a title in favor of De Mesa. Later, De Mesa sold the property to herein petitioner and a certain Gener Timbol, Sr. Thus, the CA found that the Deed of Sale between Ignacio and De Mesa was spurious.

Confronted with the issue of having failed to implead Beatriz De Mesa as an indispensible party, the CA ruled:
The defendants-appellants erroneously treated Beatriz de Mesa as an indispensable party considering her claim that she transferred her title and rights to Timbol and de Castro. As a matter of fact, TCT No. 44420 in the name of Beatriz de Mesa was cancelled by TCT No. 184801 in favor of Timbol and de Castro. The Court a quo therefore can validly render a Decision granting the reconveyance even if Beatriz de Mesa is not impleaded considering that the present title holders are their transferees. It is therefore enough that only the alleged transferees Timbol and de Castro were impleaded.[3]
Justice Florenz D. Regalado, an eminent commentator in remedial law, made the following disquisition regarding the above provision:
3. One important condition for the availment of this remedy is that the petitioner failed to move for new trial in, or appeal from, or file a petition for relief against, or take other appropriate remedies assailing the questioned judgment or final order or resolution through no fault of his ownIf he failed to avail of those other remedies without sufficient justification, he cannot resort to the action for annulment provided in this Rule, otherwise he would benefit from his own inaction or negligence.[4] (Emphasis supplied)
Here, petitioner already raised the issue of the failure to implead Beatriz de Mesa before the courts. As such, it cannot be the subject of a Petition for Annulment of Judgment.

Also, this ground could have also been availed of in a motion for new trial or relief for judgment. Thus, it cannot be used as a ground for a Petition for Annulment of Judgment.

Next, petitioner points out that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case considering that respondents failed to pay the correct amount of docket fees. Petitioner states:
58. Also, as with the decided cases of Ruby Shelter, Gochan, Siapno, and Delica, the Complaint filed by LEWANA was cleverly written and calculated to ensure that Private [sic] LEWANA would pay only a minimal amount of docket fees. (See Annex "A" of Appendix "I"). Similar to the facts in Delica and the other decided cases, Private Respondent LEWANA did not allege either the "assessed value" or the "estimated value" of the questioned parcel of land in its Complaint. Much worse, Private Respondent LEWANA even omitted to attach as part of its Complaint the Tax Declaration of the real estate property involved, thereby depriving the Clerk of Court of proper information from which to compute and assess the correct amount of docket fees.[5] x x x
Such contention, however, was directly contradicted by the CA when it ruled that:
Further, a cursory reading of the Complaint would reveal that tax declarations on the property were appended therewith. Hence, petitioners' supposition that the correct docket fee was not paid for failure to attach the tax declaration, is misleading.[6]
Such factual finding is binding on this Court.

Moreover, this issue on docket fees was already passed upon by the courts and cannot be subject of a Petition for Annulment of Judgment. Similar to the first issue, this ground could have been the basis for a Motion for New Trial or Relief from Judgment and, thus, cannot be used as a ground for a Petition for Annulment of Judgment.

The CA aptly noted: "Also, the assessment was made by the Clerk of Court and any insufficiency on the fees cannot be imputed against LEWANA."[7]

Next, petitioner argues that there was extrinsic fraud that attended the issuance of the assailed Decision justifying the annulment thereof, that he was prevented from acquiring a copy of the Death Certificate of Ignacio Bunyi. He states:
82. In this case, the Petitioner repeatedly tried to obtain a copy of the Death Certificate of Ignacio Bunyi in order to ascertain the truth of Private Respondent LEWANA's allegations and evidence as to the date of death of Ignacio O. Bunye. However, the Petitioner was repeatedly made unsuccessful. 
83. The Third party-claimant who filed the Terceria accordingly was able to obtain a copy of the Death Certificate from the Local Civil Registry only because she stated that she was a relative of Ignacio O. Bunye. Based on her account, there were instructions not to make such death certificate available to the Defendants, among whom is the Petitioner herein. Since the Third Party claimant was not a member of Defendant WANA and she was a relative of Ignacio Bunye, she was given a copy of said certificate. It was only then that the Petitioner learned that the Local Civil Registry had in its records the true copy of Ignacio Bunye's Death Certificate indicating that the latter died in 1945.
While petitioner claims that he repeatedly sought a copy of Ignacio's Death Certificate from the Local Civil Registrar, he presents no evidence to prove such allegation.

In Gochan v. Mancao,[8] the Court delineated the required proof to establish extrinsic fraud:
x x x Like in other civil cases, the allegation of extrinsic fraud must be fully substantiated by a preponderance of evidence in order to serve as basis for annulling a judgment. Extrinsic fraud has to be definitively established by the claimant as mere allegation does not instantly warrant the annulment of a final judgment. Ei incumbit probotio qui dicit, non qui negat. He who asserts, not he who denies, must prove.
Clearly, petitioner has failed to overcome the burden of proof required to establish his allegation of extrinsic fraud.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED. The assailed Resolutions dated June 10, 2015 and July 19, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 140531 are hereby AFFIRMED. (Bersamin, J., recused from the case due to relationship with a party; Jardeleza, J., designated additional Member per Raffle dated January 24, 2018Martires, J., on official leave)

SO ORDERED.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla, concurred in by Associate Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Agnes Reyes Carpio (Special 4th Division); rollo, pp. 138-144.
[2] Id. at 197-198.
[3] Id. at 97.
[4] Regalado, Florenz D., Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. I, 8th Revised Edition, p. 568.
[5] Rollo, p. 39.
[6] Id. at 142.
[7] Id.
[8] G.R. No. 182314, November 13, 2013.

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