Accessory follows the principal; exceptions to accession

While it is a hornbook doctrine that the accessory follows the principal,[1] that is, the ownership of the property gives the right by accession to everything which is produced thereby, or which is incorporated or attached thereto, either naturally or artificially,[2] such rule is not without exception. In cases where there is a clear and convincing evidence to prove that the principal and the accessory are not owned by one and the same person or entity, the presumption shall not be applied and the actual ownership shall be upheld. In a number of cases, the Supreme Court has recognized the separate ownership of the land from the building and brushed aside the rule that accessory follows the principal.

In Carbonilla v. Abiera,[3] the Court denied the claim of petitioner that, as the owner of the land, he is likewise the owner of the building erected thereon, for his failure to present evidence to buttress his position:
To set the record straight, while petitioner may have proven his ownership of the land, as there can be no other piece of evidence more worthy of credence than a Torrens certificate of title, he failed to present any evidence to substantiate his claim of ownership or right to the possession of the building. Like the CA, [the Court] cannot accept the Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement of Estate (Residential Building) with Waiver and Quitclaim of Ownership executed by the Garcianos as proof that petitioner acquired ownership of the building. There is no showing that the Garcianos were the owners of the building or that they had any proprietary right over it. Ranged against respondents’ proof of possession of the building since 1977, petitioner’s evidence pales in comparison and leaves us totally unconvinced.[4]
In Caltex (Phil.) Inc. v. Felias,[5] the Court ruled that while the building is a conjugal property and therefore liable for the debts of the conjugal partnership, the lot on which the building was constructed is a paraphernal property and could not be the subject of levy and sale:
x x x. In other words, when the lot was donated to Felisa by her parents, as owners of the land on which the building was constructed, the lot became her paraphernal property. The donation transmitted to her the rights of a landowner over a building constructed on it. Therefore, at the time of the levy and sale of the sheriff, Lot No. 107 did not belong to the conjugal partnership, but it was paraphernal property of Felisa. As such, it was not answerable for the obligations of her husband which resulted in the judgment against him in favor of Caltex.[6]

The rule on accession is not an iron-clad dictum. On instances where the Supreme Court was confronted with cases requiring judicial determination of the ownership of the building separate from the lot, it never hesitated to disregard such rule. The case at bar is of similar import. When there are factual and evidentiary evidence to prove that the building and the lot on which it stands are owned by different persons, they shall be treated separately. As such, the building or the lot, as the case may be, can be made liable to answer for the obligation of its respective owner.[7]

[1] Torbela v. Rosario, G.R. Nos. 140528 and 140553, 7 December 2011, 661 SCRA 633, 675.

[2] New Civil Code, Art. 440. The ownership of property gives the right by accession to everything which is produced thereby, or which is incorporated or attached thereto, either naturally or artificially.

[3] G.R. No. 177637, 26 July 2010, 625 SCRA 461.

[4] Id. at 468.

[5] 108 Phil. 873 (1960).

[6] Id. at 877.

[7] Villasi v. Spouses Garcia, G.R. No. 190106, January 15, 2014.