G.R. No. 212142. August 20, 2018


The Court resolves the Petition for Review on Certiorari[1] filed by petitioner Erlinda Malbog y Martinez (Erlinda), under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision[2] dated January 17, 2014 and the Resolution[3] dated April 11, 2014 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 95406. The appellate court reversed and set aside the Order[4] dated July 24, 2009 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 44 in SPL PROC CASE NO. 02-104455 and appointed respondent Corazon Dizon y De Leon (Corazon) as administrator of the intestate estate of Jose Amante de Leon Obillo (Jose).

Factual Antecedents

On April 10, 2002, Jose, an unmarried 60-year-old lawyer, died intestate at the Metropolitan Hospital, Tondo, Manila, without descendants, ascendants, brothers, and sisters.[5]

On September 2, 2002, Erlinda filed with the RTC of Manila, Branch 44, a petition docketed as Spl. Proc. Case No. 02-104455, praying for the issuance in her favor of letters of administration over Jose's intestate estate.[6]

Erlinda alleged that she is the daughter of Cecilio Basilio Martinez, Jose's cousin. According to her, she started living with Jose in 1972 when Jose and his mother, Maria Encarnacion de Leon Obillo (Maria), offered to send her to college.[7]

Sometime in 1984, Erlinda left Jose's house after she got married. Less than a year later, however, Jose urged her to return and construct her own house in the compound to be close to them. Thus, Erlinda lived with Jose and Maria during the construction of her house and looked after their daily needs.[8]

When Maria died in 1998, Jose preferred to stay in Erlinda's house and spend time with her son. Also, Jose and Erlinda ventured into the credit business with Erlinda handling all of Jose's bank books, rental receipts, and tax receipts.[9]During the time when Jose was ill, Erlinda took care of him. Upon his death, Erlinda made the arrangements for his wake and burial.[10]

According to Erlinda, Jose left several real properties, bank deposits, and shares of stock. She further alleged that Jose's house was ransacked and among the items taken was the safety deposit box containing the titles of Jose's properties.[11]

On October 11, 2002, the RTC issued its Order to set the petition for hearing on December 5, 2002 and directed the publication of the same for three consecutive weeks.[12]

On January 7, 2003, respondents Corazon and Romeliza Lejano (Romeliza) opposed the petition and prayed that they be appointed instead, as administrators. They averred that they are the first cousins of Jose considering that Maria is the sister of their respective fathers. They claimed that Erlinda is a mere housemaid of Maria, and later of Jose, but she misrepresented herself as a relative of Jose in order to illegally claim and usurp his properties.[13]

To rebut the same, Erlinda countered that she is not disqualified to administer Jose's estate. Likewise, she claimed that she is a creditor of the estate in the amount of P300,000.00 which represents her investment in her and Jose's credit guarantee venture.[14]

In sum, Erlinda allegedly desires the preservation of the estate considering that Jose's house had already been robbed and respondents precipitately partitioned his estate through a questionable Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement which had prejudiced all other heirs.[15]

Ruling of the RTC

On July 24, 2009, the RTC rendered its Order[16] wherein Erlinda was appointed as administratix of Jose's estate.

The RTC held that Erlinda is qualified to become administrator of Jose's estate considering that she has personal knowledge of Jose's real and personal properties.

Dismayed, respondents filed an appeal to the CA.

Ruling of the CA

On January 17, 2014, the CA issued its Decision[17] wherein it reversed and set aside the Order dated July 24, 2009 of the RTC. Instead, the CA appointed Corazon as administrator of the intestate estate of Jose.

The CA held that Erlinda's familiarity with, and personal knowledge of the properties of Jose is not a legal ground to entitle her to the administration of the estate. Moreover, it held that Erlinda failed to present sufficient proof to show that she is related to Jose within the fifth civil degree in the collateral line. She also failed to prove her alleged interest over Jose's estate in the amount of P300,000.00.

The CA, however, agreed with the RTC that Romeliza, likewise, cannot be appointed as administrator of Jose's estate considering that she is an illegitimate child who cannot inherit ab intestato from Jose.

With respect to Corazon, the CA found that she is qualified to be appointed as administrator of Jose's estate because among the surviving heirs of Jose, she was the only one who had expressed willingness to be the administrator.

A Motion for Reconsideration was filed, but the same was denied in a Resolution18 dated April 11, 2014, hence, this petition.

Ruling of the Court

In Suntay III v. Conjuangco-Suntay,[19] the Court made the following pronouncement:
The paramount consideration in the appointment of an administrator over the estate of a decedent is the prospective administrator's interest in the estate. This is the same consideration which Section 6, Rule 78 takes into account in establishing the order of preference in the appointment of administrator for the estate. The rationale behind the rule is that those who will reap the benefit of a wise, speedy and economical administration of the estate, or, in the alternative, suffer the consequences of waste, improvidence or mismanagement, have the highest interest and most influential motive to administer the estate correctly. In all, given that the rule speaks of an order of preference, the person to be appointed administrator of a decedent's estate must demonstrate not only an interest in the estate, but an interest therein greater than any other candidate.[20] (Citations omitted)
The order of preference in the appointment of a regular administrator depends on the attendant facts and circumstances. In Navas L. Sioca v. Garcia,[21] the Court held that determination of a person's suitability for the office of administrator rests, to a great extent, in the sound judgment of the court exercising the power of appointment and such judgment will not be interfered with on appeal unless it appears affirmatively that the court below was in error.

In the present case, willingness to act as a regular administrator is not an issue considering that both Erlinda and Corazon are undoubtedly willing to serve as such. After a careful perusal of the records of the case, however, the court resolves to affirm the findings of the CA that Corazon is more suitable to serve as administrator of Jose's estate.

As correctly observed by the CA, Erlinda failed to show competent evidence of her filial relationship with Jose. Moreover, there was no evidence on record to prove her claim that she has an interest in the estate of Jose in the amount of P300,000.00. Nonetheless, assuming that Erlinda is a creditor, she would still be in an inferior position than Corazon who is a next of kin of Jose.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision dated January 17, 2014 and the Resolution dated April 11, 2014 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 95406 are hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED. Peralta, J., designated as Acting Chairperson of the First Division per Special Order No. 2582 [Revised] dated August 8, 2018; and Gesmundo, J., designated as Acting Member of the First Division per Special Order No. 2560 dated May 11,2018.

[1] Rollo, pp. 16-33.
[2] Penned by Associate Justice Melchor Q.C. Sadang, concurred in by Associate Justices
Japar B. Dimaampao and Elihu A. Ybanez; id. at 35-52.
[3] Id. at 54-55.
[4] Id. at 57-63.
[5] Id. at 36.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. at 37.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id. at 39.
[15] Id.
[16] Id. at 57-63.
[17] Id. at 35-52.
[18] Id. at 54-55.
[19] 697 Phil. 106(2012).
[20] Id. at 116.
[21] 44 Phil. 711 (1923).

Popular Posts