CASE BRIEF 2000-0001

CASE: Romeo Ranola and Nelson Ranola vs. Court of Appeals, Fermin B. Alforque, et. al. (G.R. No. 123951 January 10, 2000)

PONENTE: Bellosillo, J.:

SUBJECT: Ownership; Tax Declarations; Moral Damages; Attorney’s Fees

FACTS: Fermin B Alforque et. al. are the descendants and heirs of one Cesario Alforque, deceased, who owned several parcels of land in Cebu. In 1960 they executed “Affidavit (Declaration of Heirs)” where they agreed to hold pro indiviso as their community property the two (2) parcels of land belonging to their father.

In 1967, Fermin B Alforque et. al. mortgaged the two (2) parcels of land containing 285-square meter to the Rural Bank to secure a loan, and upon their failure to pay the loan, the bank foreclosed the mortgaged property. The Rural Bank   later sold the foreclosed property to Ranola.

Ranola however could not take possession of the land in view of the claim of Fermin B. Alforque, one of the heirs of Cesario Alforque, that the house situated on the land as well as part of the rear portion was not among the property sold by the Rural Bank   to  Ranola.

Ranola filed a complaint for ejectment against Angeles Alforque, occupant of the house and said to be a sister-in-law of the Alforques, with the Municipal Trial Court.

During the pendency of the ejectment case, the lands in Naga, Cebu, were cadastrally surveyed. The heirs of Cesario Alforque received a survey notification card dated 16 December 1982 showing at the back thereof a sketch of the property being claimed, denominated as Lot No. 2015, marked “Heirs of Cesario Alforque,” and declaring as one of the adjoining property owners    Ranola for that 285-square meter parcel of land which he bought from the Rural Bank. Later, a survey notification card dated 28 April 1983 was issued to Ranola by another member of the survey team showing a sketch of the property which included the property being claimed by the Heirs of Cesario Alforque. At his instance, a sketch plan of the land, denominated as Lot No. 1102, was prepared patterned after the sketch found at the back of the card and describing his property as containing 531 square meters.

Consequently, an action for quieting of title and damages was filed by the Heirs of Cesario Alforque praying that they be declared the true and legal owners of Lot No. 2015 containing an area of approximately 495 square meters. The Heirs of Cesario Alforque further claimed that the lot was among several parcels inherited by them from Cesario Alforque, separate and distinct from the 285-square meter property purchased by     Ranola from the Rural Bank but which  had been trying to usurp through threats and intimidation.

Ranola filed his answer with counterclaim stating that the property he bought from the Rural Bank and covered by Tax Declaration No. 17354 had a total area of 531 square meters which included the portion being claimed by the Heirs of Cesario Alforque and identified as Lot No. 1102.

Fermin B. Alforque et. al. filed a second amended complaint alleging that Lot No. 2015 of Cadastral Survey No. 747-D had been mysteriously erased from the tracing cloth plan, merged with the lot of    Ranola and then designated as Lot 1102 in his name.

The RTC ruled in favor of Fermin B. Alforque et. al. It declared them as the true owners of the disputed property. The claim of Nelson Ranola over the disputed land was declared invalid and he was ordered to pay Fermin B. Alforque et. al. P20,000.00 as moral damages and P10,000.00 as attorney’s fees, and to pay costs.

ISSUE:  A) Who has a better right over the disputed property.
B) Whether the RTC erred in awarding moral damages and attorney’s fees.

RULING:

A)      Fermin B. Alforque et. al. has a better right.

The lot claimed by Fermin B Alforque et. al. is separate and distinct from the parcel of land bought by Ranola from the Rural Bank   is clearly shown by the series of Tax Declarations covering the lot, from year 1950 and by subsequent revisions thereof in 1967, 1974 and 1980. Cesario Alforque had been in continuous possession in the concept of owner of the property since 1950 and declared it in his name in the same year under Tax Declaration No. 00578. Upon his death, his heirs took possession of the property and declared the land in their names under Tax Declarations Nos. 016107, 008605 and 029785. All these tax declarations consistently show that a parcel of land situated in Naga, Cebu, with an area of 495 square meters was formerly owned by Cesario Alforque and later by his heirs. While it is true that tax receipts and tax declarations are not incontrovertible evidence of ownership, they constitute credible proof of a claim of title over the property. Coupled with the Alforques’ actual possession of the property since 1946, the tax declarations become strong evidence of ownership.

It is indisputable that one of the properties mortgaged by the Alforques in favor of the Rural Bank was the lot containing an area of 285 square meters and it was the same parcel of land which that bank ultimately foreclosed and sold at public auction to Ranola. The Deed of Absolute Sale executed by the bank to    Ranola also shows that the property subject of the sale contained an area of 285 square meters only.

Moreover, Ranola acknowledged the expanse of the property which he bought from the Rural Bank as only 285 square meters in the ejectment case which he filed against Angeles Alforque. Such judicial admission is conclusive upon him; he is precluded from denying it.

With the series of tax declarations and the deed of absolute sale, combined with the judicial admission of Ranola in this regard, it becomes certain that the area of Lot No. 1102 is confined only to 285 square meters. That the cadastral survey notification card of Lot No. 1102 issued to    Ranola allegedly reflected an actual area of 531 square meters is of no moment as the deed of sale reveals that the subject of the sale is limited only to 285 square meters, no more no less. It was that expanse which was sold; it was the same expanse that was bought.

Furthermore, an examination of the sketch plan of Lot No. 1102 revealed an alteration in its preparation. There was a noticeable erasure of the line separating the property of Ranola from the property claimed by the Heirs of Cesario Alforque resulting in the increase in the area of Ranola’s property and his encroachment on the 495-square meter property of Fermin B Alforque et. al.

B)       The trial court erred in awarding P20,000.00 as moral damages and P10,000.00 as attorney’s fees without making a finding thereon. Whenever granted, the court must explicitly state in the body of its decision, and not only in the dispositive portion thereof, the legal reason for the award. The power of the courts to grant damages and attorney’s fees demands factual, legal and equitable justification; its basis cannot be left to speculation or conjecture.

————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A)      While it is true that tax receipts and tax declarations are not incontrovertible evidence of ownership, they constitute credible proof of a claim of title over the property. Coupled with the Alforques’ actual possession of the property since 1946, the tax declarations become strong evidence of ownership.

B)       The trial court erred in awarding P20,000.00 as moral damages and P10,000.00 as attorney’s fees without making a finding thereon. Whenever granted, the court must explicitly state in the body of its decision, and not only in the dispositive portion thereof, the legal reason for the award.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


For more Case Briefs visit us at Stare Decisis or like us on Facebook @staredecisispage

Stare Decisis