G.R. No. 10280, February 07, 1916


This is an appeal filed through a bill of exceptions by counsel for the defendants from the judgment of April 29, 1914, whereby the Court of First Instance of Tayabas denied the claim of the defendant spouses, Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto, for recovery of damages they had suffered by reason of the filing of the complaint against them, as it was presented by authorization of the court in order to protect the rights of heirs of the deceased Isidra Coronel. The court found that the instruments of conveyance of the land in litigation, Exhibits A and B, are void and of no force or legal effect, because the parties who sold the land by means of said instruments lacked any right to alienate it and therefore the transfer made by the defendant Cenon Ona to the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa by virtue of Exhibit A and the subsequent sale of the land by these spouses to Crispin Castillo and his wife Maria Recto, as is recorded in Exhibit B, lack any force or effect; that the land which is the subject matter of the complaint is conjugal property acquired by the spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel during their marriage and consequently one-half thereof belongs to the heirs of the deceased Isidra Coronel, which half was adjudicated to the plaintiff administrator, subject, however, to the legal usufructuary right of Cenon Ona, as the widower of the said Isidra Coronel, while the other half of said realty belongs to any of the defendants who may be entitled thereto; and denied the claim of the plaintiffs that the defendants pay the value of one-half of the products of this land received by them and a sum of money in the nature of compensatory damages, merely sentencing the defendants Cenon Ona and Benigno Nadres to the payment of the costs in equal parts.

In the administration of the intestate estate of the deceased Isidra Coronel, the administrator thereof, Engracio Coronel, discovered certain arrangements between the surviving spouse, Cenon Ona, and other persons, which decreased and injured the property under administration, wherefore, by permission of the court, the said administrator on May 16, 1913, filed suit against the defendants, in which suit, by agreement of the parties (p. 2 of the principal part of the record), there were included as plaintiffs the heirs of the said deceased named Francisco Coronel, Agripina Coronel, Engracia Torres, Manuela Torres and her husband Lucio Panganiban, and the minor Anastacia Ramon, represented by his curator ad litem, Engracio Coronel. Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that the plaintiff administration is the owner of one-half pro indiviso of a rural estate, 10 hectares and 42 centares in area, situate in the barrio of Lagalag of the town of Tiaong, Province of Tayabas, planted with 2,000 coco palms from 4 to 6 years old, the boundaries whereof are set forth in the complaint, said realty being conjugal property as it was acquired for a consideration by the deceased Isidra Coronel and her husband Cenon Ona during their marriage; that upon the death of the wife in April, 1911, the surviving spouse Cenon Ona became the administrator of said undivided property, taking all its products and refusing to make partition of the land with the lawful heirs of his deceased wife; that on November 6, 1912, Cenon Ona and the other defendants formed a conspiracy, with intent of gain for themselves, to the fraud and injury of the plaintiff administration, and drew up and signed ah alleged instrument of sale, whereby Cenon Ona sold to the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa the said land, which instrument they falsely dated as prior to the death of his wife Isidra Coronel and forged and imitated her signature or mark by writing her name and surname thereon with a cross between them; that on the same date, November 5, 1912, the same defendants, continuing their fraudulent proceedings, executed another instrument of sale of the same land, wherein they made to appear as vendors thereof Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa and as vendees the spouses Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto, so that thereby it would be more difficult for the plaintiff administration to recover said estate, and from that date the defendant Cenon Ona surrendered possession and enjoyment of the said land to the spouses Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto, who have been up to the present time in possession thereof and have taken the products therefrom, having refused to give the plaintiff administration any portion of the latter; that by reason of the malicious and fraudulent acts of these defendants the plaintiff administration has suffered damages to the extent of P1,000, and therefore judgment is sought in its favor: (a) Decreeing partition of the said land and adjudicating to it one-half thereof and the other half to any of the defendants entitled thereto; (b) sentencing the defendants Cenon Ona, Crispin Castillo, and Maria Recto to pay to it the value of one-half of the fruits and products of the land which they have illegally taken; and (c) sentencing the defendants jointly and severally to pay to the plaintiff a sum not exceeding P1,000 as compensatory damages, with the costs.

On May 29,1913, the defendants Benigno Nadres, Victoria Villa, Crispin Castillo, and Maria Recto answered the foregoing complaint, denying all the allegations thereof generally and specifically, and alleging in special defense: That on or about November 8, 1910, the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Castillo [Villa] had acquired the land which is the subject matter of the complaint at a genuine and absolute sale from the spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel, as is demonstrated by the instrument marked Exhibit A, annexed to the answer; that the other instrument, Exhibit B, which was made a part of the same answer, shows that the defendant spouses Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto acquired the same land on November 5, 1912, at a genuine and absolute sale from their codefendants, Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa; wherefore they prayed the court to absolve them from the complaint, with the costs against the plaintiffs.

In another document of a later date the defendant spouses, Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto, denied the facts set forth in the complaint and in special defense alleged that they are the exclusive owners of the land described in the complaint, as they acquired it by purchase from the spouses Nadres and Villa by virtue of an instrument already in the court's possession; that they had never concerted nor conspired with their other codefendants for the purchase of the said land, nor had they intervened at all in the purchase thereof made by the spouses Nadres and Villa from Cenon Ona; that as purchasers in good faith they had caused the land in question to be cleared and cultivated at great expense to themselves; that the malicious complaint filed against them by Engracio Coronel had caused them injury to the extent of P500; and therefore they prayed that they be absolved from the complaint and that the plaintiffs be sentenced to pay them the sum of P500 as damages, in addition to the costs.

Counsel for Cenon Ona in answer denied generally and specifically all the paragraphs of the complaint and alleged solely in special defense that he had never, either before or at the time of the sale made by him and his deceased wife Isidra Coronel of the land which is the subject matter of the complaint, concerted or conspired with his codefendants to effect said sale, and therefore he asked to be absolved from the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, with the costs against them.

After trial and examination of the evidence adduced by both parties, the court rendered the judgment that has been set forth, whereto the defendants saved their exception and presented a written motion for a reopening of the case and the holding of a new trial; which motion being denied, with exception on the part of the appellants, the corresponding bill of exceptions was filed, approved, and forwarded to the clerk of this court.

The question to be determined in this suit is reduced solely to whether or not the instrument of purchase and sale, Exhibit A, of the land which is the subject matter of the complaint, whereby the spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel appear to have sold said land on November 8, 1910, to the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa, is false and fraudulent.

There is no question whatsoever as to the identity of the land claimed in the complaint, as the parties so acknowledged at the trial, it being, according to the complaint, a rural estate situated in the barrio of Lagalag of the municipality of Tiaong, Tayabas, with an area of ten hectares and forty-two centiares and planted with 2,000 coco palms.

The defendant Cenon Ona was lawfully married to Isidra Coronel and during their marriage they acquired by purchase from Juan Cadiz the land to which Exhibit C refers, wherefore said realty is their conjugal property. This marriage was dissolved by the death of Isidra Coronel on April 13, 1911 (p. 36), without issue from these spouses and without a will executed in life by the woman, so the heirs that by operation of law must succeed said deceased Isidra Coronel are her brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces, residing in the town of San Juan de Bocboc, Batangas, who are now the plaintiffs. (Stipulation, p. 2.)

In the instrument of purchase and sale, Exhibit A, of the defendants, written in the Tagalog dialect, p. 58 of the record in case No. 776 and translated at p. 23 of the record in this case, it appears that the spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel transferred by absolute sale on November 8, 1910, the land in litigation to the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa, under the following conditions: (1) The spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel had planted coco palms on a certain tract of land belonging to Benigno Nadres and his wife, which land Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel had alienated without the consent of the owners thereof, the said Nadres and wife; (2) on their part the spouses Ona and Coronel possessed another tract of land which they had purchased from Juan Cadiz, whereon they had already set out 1,400 young coco palms and 800 more could be planted; (3) as Benigno Nadres and his wife Were demanding return of the land previously sold by Ona and Coronel, the latter thought it fair to cede their own land to said Nadres and wife in exchange for what they had alienated, Nadres and his wife there in hand paying P2,500 as the increase in the price; (4) this exchange was made on the condition that Cenon Ona and his wife should continue to care for and cultivate the land in litigation for the period of four years; (5) the betel nut, paddy, buri, and other products shall pertain exclusively to the vendors, Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel, who shall pay the land tax for the said four years of the life of the contract; and (6) the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa were agreed that they would have no participation in the crops from the land. This instrument is signed by the contracting parties and the witnesses, except Isidra Coronel, who placed her mark on the instrument between her name and surname, which must have been affixed by another person, as she could not write.

Plaintiffs alleged that the sale of said land, effected on November 8, 1910, by the spouses Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel, is simulated and fictitious, made for the purpose of defrauding the persons entitled to inherit from Isidra Coronel; that the alleged signature or mark of the said Isidra Coronel in said instrument is false, for in reality the said instrument, Exhibit A, was drawn up, not on November 8, 1910, but on some date subsequent to the death of Isidra Coronel, wherefore she could not have signed or executed it.

Defendants allege in their defense that the said instrument, Exhibit A, is valid and effective; that there was no conspiracy or fraud on their part in the agreement they made concerning the land in question.

From the abundant, but contradictory, evidence adduced at the trial, the following facts are deduced: (1) The consideration which gave rise to the execution by Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel of the instrument Exhibit A, with reference to their having alienated a parcel of land belonging to Benigno Nadres and his wife, is not a valid one; (2) the consideration for the transfer of the land in question to the Nadres couple, with payment by them of P2,500 to the vendors, is false and simulated; (3) the instrument evidencing the sale of this land, Exhibit A, was executed after Isidra Coronel's death and cannot therefore produce any effect against her heirs; and (4) the transfer by exchange and sale of the land to the vendee Benigno Nadres is not valid, as said transfer was recorded in the instrument, Exhibit A, for the sole and deliberate purpose of preventing the lawful heirs of Isidra Coronel from inheriting their portion thereof.

Cenon Ona was granted permission to explain the reason for all the arrangements that have been mentioned and stated that it is true that he and his wife Isidra Coronel had received a tract of land from said Nadres, on which to set out coco-palms, with the condition that after the planting had been finished and six years had elapsed, he and his wife should become the owners of one-half of the said tract, as had happened, and as he was then in need of money he had sold to a third person said portion of land that then belonged to him; but it is not true that he obligated himself not to sell that portion of land to anybody but its original owner, Benigno Nadres. This testimony of Cenon Ona, which was not rebutted or contradicted by the other defendants, for Benigno Nadres did not testify at the trial, constitutes conclusive proof of the invalidity of the reason given for the exchange of the land in question for that previously sold and for transferring it to the said Benigno Nadres and his wife; and it is furthermore to be noted that Cenon Ona himself stated under oath that in transferring this land to said Nadres on November 8, 1910, as is recorded in Exhibit A, he had no intention of transferring it absolutely but had made this transfer appear in an instrument so that Nadres might take charge of the land and not bother him, as he was then old, and also to prevent the heirs of his wife Isidra Coronel, residing in San Juan de Bocboc, from participating in her inheritance (p. 67); and this statement also was not impugned by any of the defendants. Hence it is inferred that the consideration which gave rise to the transfer of this land to Nadres and his wife is not valid, but false and simulated.

In the instrument itself, Exhibit A, the persons who say they are the makers thereof, Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel, set forth: That they transfer in exchange the land in question to the spouses Nadres and Villa in consideration of the payment by the latter of "an increase of P2,500," a sum paid to the makers, "at this time as its fair value." But it appears from the record to be plainly proven by the uncontradicted testimony of Cenon Ona that, even though the instrument Exhibit A was executed, the price of the land has not yet been paid by Nadres, and for this reason deponent could not contract with Crispin Castillo for the sale thereof (p. 75), for even though the latter knew that the land belonged to Ona he also knew that the price of the sale had not yet been delivered to him by Nadres, and therefore Castillo reached an understanding with Nadres regarding the purchase of the land and paid him the price thereof.

It is true that the interested party, Cenori Ona, admitted at the trial (pp. 68, 69) that he had received from Benigno Nadres said sum of P2,500, but he added that he had not yet been completely paid as he had yet to receive the sum of P4,500 of the P7,000 that at the last harvest, 1913, Crispin Castillo had promised to pay the said Nadres for this land.

Hence it is inferred that the said realty was not sold to Benigno Nadres but a pretence was made of transferring it in order to sell it as the agent of Cenon Ona, and therefore the land continued to belong to Cenon Ona and his wife, the deceased Isidra Coronel. It is furthermore to be noted that when said transfer was made to Nadres the heirs of the deceased Isidra Coronel had already filed a claim for the land and consequently any alienation thereof that may have been made after the date of said claim filed by the heirs of the deceased Coronel is fraudulent. (Oria vs. McMicking, 21 Phil. Rep., 243, 249.)

The record shows that it has been duly proven that the instrument of sale of the land in dispute, Exhibit A, is false and simulated, and is therefore void and ineffective. Engracio Coronel, who is a nephew and heir of the deceased Isidra Coronel, and therefore interested in the property his aunt left, frequently visited the land in question and made sure that the widower Cenon Ona continued to possess it and to gather the products therefrom averring in March, 1914, that Crispin Castillo had been in possession of it for about six months only. The owner of the land himself, Cenon Ona, affirmed that even after the death of his wife, Isidra Coronel, he had continued in possession of it until Nadres sold it to Crispin Castillo, which was on November 5, 1912; that he had consented to transfer this realty to Nadres because he could thereby get a higher price for it, and this had been proposed to him by Nadres after his wife had died. The fact that Benigno Nadres proposed to Cenon Ona the transfer of the land, in order to prevent the plaintiffs from getting anything from the inheritance, is corroborated by the testimony of the witness Sotero Gabino, who added that this conversation between Ona and Nadres took place in the yard of his house about noon in the year 1913, and that even after being left a widower Ona continued in possession of the land for about two years before it was delivered to Crispin Castillo.

The inevitable conclusion, from these statements is that the instrument of conveyance, Exhibit A, was prepared by these defendants on a date subsequent to the death of Isidra Coronel and that she could not have placed a mark between her name and surname thereon, notwithstanding what was said by the witnesses Juan Javier and Damian Magtibay to the effect that said Juan Javier had affixed the name of the said Isidra Coronel to the instrument, Exhibit A, because she could not write, and that she placed her mark or cross between her name and surname in the presence of both witnesses. The trial court held to be true the declaration made by the husband himself, Cenon Ona, that this transfer was effected after the death of his wife, and it was not demonstrated at the trial or in this instance that said court made any mistake in giving credence to the husband's ingenuous statement.

Moreover, Cenon Ona said that the instrument, Exhibit A, whereby Benigno Nadres was made the depositary of the land in question, was executed in said Benigno Nadres' house and was then signed by Ona himself; and that after it had been signed another arrangement was made that same day, Benigno Nadres transferring said land to Crispin Castillo and his wife Maria Recto. If it is kept in mind that the instrument whereby the spouses Castillo and Recto claim ownership of the land in question is Exhibit B, dated November 5, 1912, it is evident that the instrument Exhibit A, executed on the same day as the instrument of sale to Castillo and his wife, although dated November 8, 1910, could not have been executed by Ona and his wife Isidra Coronel, as the defendants allege and as is recorded in said instrument Exhibit A, on the date entered therein. If it were true that Exhibit A was executed on November 8, 1910, then there is something not satisfactorily explained by any of the defendants, which is that the instrument was not ratified before a notary on the date of its execution, but something like two years later when the witness for the defendants, Juan Javier, affirmed that he had written Exhibit A in the very office of the justice of the peace of the town of Candelana on an occasion when the regular justice of the peace and the auxiliary justice were present, but when the instrument was finished and while the interested parties were affixing their signatures the justice of the peace went away from his office, leaving the auxiliary justice, and for this reason said instrument, drawn up on November 8, 1910, was not ratified before said justice of the peace, but before the witness' brother, Mansueto Javier, who was then municipal treasurer and at the same time a notary public with his office in the same building as the justice of the peace, on November 5, 1912.

It is to be noted that Juan Javier at first said that it was he who drew up the instrument Exhibit A, but on cross-examination he affirmed that the handwriting thereof was that of his brother Mansueto, the notary; while the defendant Ona asserted that a person named Cantos wrote it.

Furthermore, the simulation of the instrument Exhibit A is corroborated by the fact that Cenon Ona delivered to the administrator. Engracio Coronel, the sum of P900 so that the latter and his coplaintiffs should desist from filing a judicial claim to the land in litigation, and, according to agreement, they executed the instrument (p. 26 of the record in case No. 776) setting forth that sum, both parties signing it in the presence of two witnesses and ratifying It before a justice of the peace. Coronel and Ona affirm the truth of the fact set forth in said instrument to demonstrate that the land was not absolutely alienated but continued to be at the disposition of the widower. But the Court of First Instance (record, p. 42) disapproved said agreement and ordered restitution to the widower Ona of the money received by Coronel.

It is a striking fact that one of the individuals who played a principal part in the sale of the realty, Benigno Nadres, was not presented by the defendants as a witness at the trial to clear up certain obscure and doubtful points, for he only testified in rebuttal, although he was present in the court at the last session of the trial in this case; wherefore it is to be supposed, in the absence of proof to the contrary, that his testimony, which was willfully suppressed by the defendants, would have been prejudicial to them (No. 5, section 334, Code of Civil Procedure), while the record shows that Cenon Ona made declarations con- trary to the interests of his other codefendants, which could not be contradicted or impugned as false.

Having reached the conclusion that Exhibit A, in which it appears that the spouses Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa purchased the land in question, is false and void, because said sale was not effected, therefore the sale made by them to the spouses Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto on November 5, 1912, Exhibit B, is also void and ineffective, for the parties who figure therein as vendors had no right to dispose of the land, nor could they transmit to the vendees any title of ownership, nor could the latter acquire ownership of the land sold.

Article 1254 of the Civil Code states:

"A contract exists from the moment one or more persons consent to bind himself or themselves, with regard to another or others, to give something or to render some service."

Since Isidra Coronel was dead on the date when the contract, Exhibit A, was drawn up and could not have taken part in the execution thereof or given her consent to the pretended sale of the land to which it refers and which belonged to the conjugal partnership of Cenon Ona and Isidra Coronel, it is unquestionable that said contract has never existed, and being void it could not serve as a legal means for transferring ownership to the alleged purchasers, Benigno Nadres and Victoria Villa; and as they could not acquire any right of ownership to the land sold by Virtue of a contract that had not existed and was consequently null and void they could not transfer such a right to the spouses Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto.

There is no contract, says article 1261 of the same Code, unless there exist the essential requisites of consent of the contracting parties, a definite object which may be the subject of the contract, and the consideration for the obligation which may be established.

From the plainly proven facts that the record discloses it is evident that Isidra Coronel was not present to give her consent to the alleged contract of sale, because she was dead when said contract was simulated, nor is any consideration for the obligation stated therein, and consequently the contract set forth in said instrument, Exhibit A, is flagrantly null and void, especially when the record proves that although it appears to have been dated November 8, 1910, while Isidra Coronel was still alive, it was prepared on the same day, November 5, 1912, as the instrument Exhibit B, for the widower Cenon Ona so testified.

The land in litigation is not only conjugal property, with one-half thereof belonging to the deceased Isidra Coronel, but also from the moment of her death it passed by operation of law into the ownership of her intestate heirs, and for this reason her widower could not dispose of said half to the injury of the nearest relatives and heirs of his deceased wife. (Arts. 657, 659, 661, Civil Code.)

For the purpose of avoiding the provision of law that protects the rights of the lawful heirs of the deceased Coronel woman, the widower Cenon Ona, at the advice of Benigno Nadres, resorted to the method of simulating and counterfeiting a contract of sale, with a date set back, but in the face of the evidence adduced by the defendants and as a result of the circumstantial data derived from the very acts and proceedings of the widower and his adviser Nadres, the method selected failed and the fraud committed to the injury of the plaintiffs became evident.

Since these plaintiffs did not take part in the execution of the contracts of sale, Exhibits A and B, and did not act in bad faith in filing this complaint against the herein defendants, Crispin Castillo and Maria Recto, the latter are not entitled to recover any indemnity for damages.

Furthermore, the record discloses, by the declaration of the administrator himself, Engracio Coronel, and by that of Cenon Ona, that the coco palms set out on the land in dispute have not yet borne fruit, wherefore plaintiffs' claim that they be paid the value of one-half of the products taken from the land in question cannot be granted.

Appellants allege in their third assignment of error that the court improperly admitted the testimony of the defendant Cenon Ona, who was one of the parties to the said Exhibit A and who in his declaration related the antecedents and details of its execution. This allegation cannot be sustained, because it refers to the document Exhibit A, which was the very one argued by the plaintiffs to be false and void, and for this reason they were entitled to present the necessary proofs tending to demonstrate the truth of their allegation; and this does not offset the testimony given at the trial by said Cenon Ona denying in his reply the fraud and conspiracy alleged in the complaint, because he was not hindered from telling the truth under oath and impugning the allegations contained in his answer. The contradiction into which he unwittingly fell is a further proof of the falsity of the instrument, Exhibit A.

For these reasons, whereby the errors assigned to the judgment appealed from are held to be refuted, it is proper to affirm the same, as we do hereby affirm it, with the costs against the appellants. So ordered.

Arellano, C. J., Johnson, and Trent, JJ., concur.
Moreland, J., dissents.