G.R. No. 190118, February 21, 2018

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 190118, February 21, 2018 ]

DEMETRIO TELMO, SUBSTITUTED BY HIS HEIRS, NAMELY, ANGELINA T. PEJANA, MANUEL TELMO, BENJAMIN TELMO, ROSANA T. RONIO, RIZALITO TELMO, NORISSA T. LEGASPI AND CONSUELO T. MIRANDA V. PAZ TELMO.

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that the Court, First Division, issued a Resolution dated February 21, 2018 which reads as follows:

"G.R. No. 190118 (Demetrio Telmo, substituted by his heirs, namely, Angelina T. Pejana, Manuel Telmo, Benjamin Telmo, Rosana T. Ronio, Rizalito Telmo, Norissa T. Legaspi and Consuelo T. Miranda v. Paz Telmo). – This is a petition for review on certiorari[1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision[2] dated September 30, 2009 and Resolution[3] dated November 6, 2009 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 90984. The CA affirmed with modification the Decision[4] dated July 16, 2007 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 15 of Naic, Cavite in Civil Case No. NC-96-741.

On July 5, 1996, Demetrio Telmo (Demetrio) filed a Complaint/Petition for Declaration of Nullity with Cancellation of Title[5] of a parcel of residential land against Paz Telmo (Paz).

Demetrio alleged that on June 5, 1976, his father, Felix Telmo (Felix), now deceased, executed in Demetrio's favor a deed of sale over a 300-square meter parcel of residential land located at Barangay Daine, Indang, Cavite. As a result, Tax Declaration (TD) No. 23845 was issued in Demetrio's name and since then, Demetrio, by himself or through his daughter, Angelina Pejana, has been paying the real estate tax due.[6]

Later, Demetrio discovered that Felix purportedly executed a deed of donation dated June 7, 1995 in favor of Paz which covered, among others, the lot Felix previously sold to Demetrio. As a result, Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-6360 was issued to Paz.[7]

Demetrio averred that the deed of donation was void ab initio because Felix died on December 18, 1981 while the deed of donation was executed on June 7, 1995. Thus, he claims Paz is guilty of land-grabbing the lot covered by the deed of sale Felix executed in favor Demetrio.[8]

Demetrio prayed for the following reliefs:
1. Declaring the deed of donation, Annex "C" to be void from the very beginning and with no effect at all;

2. Ordering the cancellation of the title (OTB) (OCT) Bilang P-6360[] in so far as it covers an area equal to 300 square meters under Tax Dec. No. 23845 and/or ordering the re- survey of all the lots covered by Title P-6360 excluding thereat the area covered by Tax Dec. No. 23845 and be clearly declared to be owned by herein plaintiff in the title or some other document in a manner just and equitable;

3. Ordering the defendant to pay the cost of the litigation;

4. Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the amount of [P]500,000.00 by way of moral damages and attorney's fee in the amount of [P]50,000.00.

Other remedies which are just and equitable under the premises are also prayed for.[9]
Paz filed her Answer[10] on July 15, 1996 and argued that Demetrio's complaint was a collateral attack on the certificate of title which the law does not allow. She claimed that her title is incontrovertible, indefeasible and conclusive evidence of ownership as compared to Demetrio's tax declaration and that the officials and employees of the government agencies who issued the title are presumed to have regularly performed their duties and functions.

She further argued that the land area of OCT No. P-6360 issued in her favor has its own technical description duly approved by the Land Management Bureau and is different from the land claimed by Demetrio; thus, Demetrio did not have any right or interest over the land in question and therefore did not have any cause of action against her.

On August 14, 1996, Demetrio filed an Amended Complaint[11] to implead the Register of Deeds of Cavite City (Trece Martires City). He further averred that Paz signed two deeds of donation both dated June 7, 1995 and that a comparison of the lot covered by TD No. 23845 and the lots covered by the two deeds of donation shows that the former is included in the latter.[12] The contents of the two deeds of donation were reproduced where it was shown that the first deed of donation covers Lot 7032 containing an area of 809 square meters while the second deed of donation covers Lot 7033 containing an area of 190 square meters, both situated at Barangay Daine, Indang, Cavite.[13] Demetrio amended his prayer to specify that the two deeds of donation should be declared void ab initio and the lots they covered should be declared Felix's hereditary property.[14]

On February 8, 1999, Demetrio filed a 2nd Amended Complaint/Petition[15] and included other parties as plaintiffs who were alleged to be forced heirs of Felix. The 2nd amended complaint averred that aside from including the lot sold by Felix to Demetrio, the two deeds of donation also covered 509 square meters of Felix's hereditary property to which Demetrio and the other plaintiffs are entitled. The rest, the 2nd amended complaint averred, is the property inherited by Nicolas Telmo (Nicolas), Paz's father, from Felix.[16] The prayer was amended as follows:
x x x


2. Ordering the cancellation of the Title (OTB) (OCT) Bilang P. 6360 and the reversion of the status of ownership in favor of DEMETRIO TELMO as to the 300 square meters covered by Tax[] Dec. No. 11133 / 23845, and the remaining 509 square meters under Tax Dec. No. 16291 be declared hereditary property left by Felix Telmo in favor of Leonora Telmo Pagkaliwangan, Rosa Telmo Rollo, Aurora Rosanes in substitution of Felisa Telmo, and Demetrio Telmo, it being made clear that plaintiffs are agreeable that the 190 square meters covered by Tax Dec. No. 16391 be the property inherited by Nicolas Telmo from Felix Telmo and ultimately to / by Paz Telmo – being the forced heir of Nicolas Telmo[;]

x x x

4. Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the amount of [P]500,000.00 by way of moral and exemplary damages, and attorney's fees in the amount of [P]50,000.00[;]

5. Ordering the Register of Deeds to cancel Title OTB (OCT) Bilang P. 6360 in so far as the area of [e]ight hundred nine (809) square meters is concerned[.]

Other remedies which are just and equitable under the premises are also prayed for.[17]
On January 30, 2001, the RTC admitted the 2nd Amended Complaint/Petition.[18] Trial ensued.

On July 16, 2007, the RTC issued its Decision[19] dismissing the complaint. The RTC held that Demetrio failed to prove that Paz's title to the land was acquired by fraud or illegal means and that Paz's certificate of title prevails over Demetrio's tax declaration. As Demetrio was not able to show any other proof of his ownership over the land, Paz's title must not be disturbed. The RTC ordered Demetrio to pay Paz P20,000.00 as attorney's fees plus P1,000.00 per court appearance and P20,000.00 as moral damages and cost of litigation.[20]

Only Demetrio filed a Notice of Appeal.[21] On February 24, 2009, counsel for Demetrio filed a Notice of Death of Party with Motion for Substitution[22] informing the CA that Demetrio died on September 30, 2007.[23] His surviving heirs, his wife and seven children, moved that they be substituted as appellants which the CA granted on May 4, 2009.[24]

On September 30, 2009, the CA rendered its Decision[25] affirming with modification the RTC's Decision.

The CA was not persuaded by Demetrio's allegation that the Deeds of Donation were falsified on the alleged ground that Felix died in 1981 whereas the assailed documents were executed only in 1995. It ruled that forgery cannot be presumed and whoever alleges it has the burden of proving the same. As Demetrio failed to present Felix's death certificate, the best evidence of the fact of Felix's death, Demetrio failed to discharge his burden. Bare allegation of forgery is insufficient to overcome the presumption of due execution accorded to a notarized document.[26]

The CA also ruled that a certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified, or cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law.[27] As Demetrio primarily sought to declare the two deeds of donation as forged/falsified, the complaint was a collateral attack on Paz's title.[28]

However, the CA reversed the RTC in granting damages and attorney's fees to Paz Telmo for her failure to prove the bases for their award.[29]

On November 6, 2009, the CA denied Demetrio's motion for reconsideration.[30]

Petitioners filed this petition and argued that the CA erred in holding that their action is a collateral attack on Paz's title.[31] Petitioners also averred that Felix's death certificate is not the sole proof of his death. Petitioners were able to establish his death through circumstantial evidence, i.e., photo of Felix's tombstone and other photographs, as well as testimonies of their witnesses proving that at the time the two Deeds of Donation were executed in 1995, Felix would have been 117 years old.[32]

We find that petitioners are correct in asserting that the CA erred in ruling that their action is a collateral attack on Paz's title.

Section 48 of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529 or the Property Registration Decree proscribes a collateral attack to a certificate of title and requires that the judicial action needed to challenge the validity of a title is a direct attack, to wit:
Sec. 48. Certificate not subject to collateral attack. A certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified, or canceled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law.
We distinguish between a direct and a collateral attack:
The attack is considered direct when the object of an action is to annul or set aside such proceeding, or enjoin its enforcement. Conversely, an attack is indirect or collateral when, in an action to obtain a different relief, an attack on the proceeding is nevertheless made as an incident thereof. Such action to attack a certificate of title may be an original action or a counterclaim, in which a certificate of title is assailed as void.[33] (Emphasis in the original.)
The 2nd Amended Complaint/Petition pertinently alleged that Paz's title, OCT No. P-6360, was secured through fraud, as the two deeds of donation, the title's basis, were falsified. It prayed that OCT No. P-6360 be cancelled insofar as it covered the 809 square meters which rightfully belonged to Demetrio and the other heirs of Felix. Clearly, as the complaint directly impugned the validity of and sought to nullify Paz's title, petitioners are correct in asserting that the action filed in the RTC is a direct attack on Paz's certificate of title.

Nevertheless, we still deny the petition.

Our jurisdiction in a Rule 45 petition is limited to the review of pure questions of law. Negatively put, Rule 45 does not allow the review of questions of fact because the Court is not a trier of facts.[34] Generally, we are not duty-bound to again analyze and weigh the evidence introduced in and considered by the tribunals below. When supported by substantial evidence, the findings of fact of the CA are conclusive and binding on the parties and are not reviewable by this Court.[35]

A question of law arises when there is doubt as to what the law is on a certain state of facts, while there is a question of fact when the doubt arises as to the truth or falsity of the alleged facts. The question, to be one of law, must rest solely on what the law provides on the given set of circumstances and should avoid the scrutiny of the probative value of the parties' evidence.[36]

Here, a resolution of the merits of the case requires the re-evaluation of the factual findings of the RTC and the CA. The questions surrounding the execution of the two deeds of donation and whether petitioners presented sufficient evidence to prove that it would have been impossible for Felix to sign the two deeds of donation on June 7, 1995, as he earlier died on December 18, 1981, require the re-evaluation of the factual findings of the RTC and the CA. On this score alone, the petition fails.

Just the same, even if we relax the rules, there is no reason to reverse the RTC and the CA.

A notarized document carries the evidentiary weight conferred upon it with respect to its due execution, and it has in its favor the presumption of regularity which may only be rebutted by evidence so clear, strong and convincing as to exclude all controversy as to the falsity of the certificate.[37] We have held:
Deeply embedded in our jurisprudence is the rule that notarial documents celebrated with all the legal requisites under the safeguard of a notarial certificate is evidence of a high character and to overcome its recitals, it is incumbent upon the party challenging it to prove his claim with clear, convincing and more than merely preponderant evidence.

x x x The burden of proof to overcome the presumption of due execution of a notarial document lies on the one contesting the same. Furthermore, an allegation of forgery must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, and whoever alleges it has the burden of proving the same.[38]
Petitioners' attack on the two deeds of donation is anchored on fraud and forgery. They insist that it was impossible for Felix to sign the deeds of donation as he was already dead at the time of their execution. Unfortunately, petitioners failed to discharge their burden and failed to present enough evidence of the forgery enough to overcome the presumption of authenticity.

Felix's death certificate would have been the best evidence to establish his date of death.[39] Petitioners have, however, averred that Felix's death is not registered with the Civil Registrar of Indang, Cavite; hence, there is no death certificate available.[40] This bare and self-serving allegation, however, is unsubstantiated. No certification from the Civil Registrar of Indang, Cavite was presented indicating that Felix's death is not among those found in its records.

In the absence of a death certificate, Demetrio could also have presented as evidence an authentic signature of Felix to be compared with the allegedly forged signature appearing in the deeds of donation. The best evidence of a forged signature in the instrument is the instrument itself reflecting the alleged forged signature. The fact of forgery can only be established by a comparison between the alleged forged signature and the authentic and genuine signature of the person whose signature is theorized upon to have been forged.[41]

Also, records from the cemetery as to the date of burial would have also been credible.[42] However, they were not offered in evidence. Instead, Demetrio filed two motions for ocular inspection[43] for the court to see the tomb of Felix and its inscriptions, including the date of death. Demetrio also offered in evidence the birth certificates of Felix's children[44] in an attempt to prove that it was improbable for Felix to be alive in 1995. These are not conclusive proof of the date of Felix's death. Certainly, we cannot nullify the deeds of donation and OCT on the basis of mere improbability.

Demetrio and petitioners also presented tax declarations and receipts to defeat Paz's title over the property. These documents cannot prevail over Paz's certificate of title which is an incontrovertible proof of ownership. A title, once registered, cannot be defeated even by adverse, open and notorious possession. The certificate of title issued is an absolute and indefeasible evidence of ownership of the property in favor of the person whose name appears therein. It is binding and conclusive upon the whole world.[45] On the other hand, tax declarations and receipts do not by themselves conclusively prove title to the land; they are only prima facie evidence of ownership or possession.[46]

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated September 30, 2009 and the Resolution dated November 6, 2009 in CA-G.R. CV No. 90984 are affirmed." (Sereno, CJ., on official business; Leonardo-De Castro, J., designated as Acting Chairperson of the First Division per Special Order No. 2536 dated February 20, 2018; and Tijam, J., on official leave.)

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) LIBRADA C. BUENA
Deputy Division Clerk of Court

[1] Rollo, pp. 8-25.

[2] Id. at 26-36, penned by Associate Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal with Associate Justices Jose Catral Mendoza and Antonio L. Villamor, concurring.

[3] Id. at 61.

[4] Id. at 53-60.

[5] RTC records, pp. 1-5.

[6] Id. at 1-2.

[7] Id. at 2.

[8] Id. at 2-3.

[9] Id. at 4.

[10] Id. at 24-28.

[11] Id. at 29-37.

[12] Id. at 30.

[13] Id. at 31-33.

[14] Id. at 35. See also TSN dated February 7, 2001, pp. 24-25

[15] Id. at 194-204.

[16] Id. at 195-196.

[17] Id. at 202-203.

[18] Id. at 276.

[19] Rollo, pp. 53-60.

[20] Id. at 59-60.

[21] RTC records, pp. 609-610.

[22] CA rollo, pp. 32-34.

[23] Id. at 35.

[24] Id. at 55.

[25] Rollo, pp. 26-36.

[26] Id. at 32-33.

[27] Id. at 33.

[28] Id. at 34.

[29] Id. at 35.

[30] Id.at 61.

[31] Id. at 16.

[32] Id. at 18-21.

[33] Arangote v. Maglunob, G.R. No. 178906, February 18, 2009, 579 SCRA 620, 640.

[34] General Mariano Alvarez Services Cooperative, Inc. (GEMASCO) v. National Housing Authority (NHA), G.R. No. 175417, February 9, 2015, 750 SCRA 156, 162.

[35] Cirtek Employees Labor Union-Federation of Free Workers v. Cirtek Electronics, Inc., G.R. No. 190515, June 6, 2011, 650 SCRA 656, 660.

[36] Chu, Jr. v. Caparas, G.R. No. 175428, April 15, 2013, 696 SCRA 324, 332-333.

[37] Pan Pacific Industrial Sales Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125283, February 10, 2006, 482 SCRA 164, 174.

[38] Id. at 174-175.

[39] See Gonzales v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 117740, October 30, 1998, 298 SCRA 322, 332.

[40] RTC records, p. 223.

[41] Heirs of the Late Felix M. Bucton v. Go, G.R. No. 188395, November 20, 2013, 710 SCRA 457, 465-466.

[42] Cf. Gonzales v. Court of Appeals, supra at 331-332.

[43] RTC records, pp. 210-211, 223-225.

[44] Id. at 540-544.

[45] Heirs of Leopoldo Vencilao, Sr. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 123713, April 1, 1998, 288 SCRA 574, 581.

[46] Id. at 581-582.

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