Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Accion in personam vs. accion in rem - G.R. No. 142676

G.R. No. 142676

"x x x.

ivil Case No. Q-28580 is an action for reconveyance of real property. In Heirs of Eugenio Lopez, Sr. v. Enriquez,[42] we described an action for reconveyance as follows:

An action for reconveyance is an action in personam available to a person whose property has been wrongfully registered under the Torrens system in another’s name. Although the decree is recognized as incontrovertible and no longer open to review, the registered owner is not necessarily held free from liens. As a remedy, an action for reconveyance is filed as an ordinary action in the ordinary courts of justice and not with the land registration court. Reconveyance is always available as long as the property has not passed to an innocent third person for value. A notice of lis pendens may thus be annotated on the certificate of title immediately upon the institution of the action in court. The notice of lis pendens will avoid transfer to an innocent third person for value and preserve the claim of the real owner.[43] (Emphases ours.)

The rule is that: (1) a judgment in rem is binding upon the whole world, such as a judgment in a land registration case or probate of a will; and (2) a judgment in personam is binding upon the parties and their successors-in-interest but not upon strangers. A judgment directing a party to deliver possession of a property to another is in personam; it is binding only against the parties and their successors-in-interest by title subsequent to the commencement of the action. An action for declaration of nullity of title and recovery of ownership of real property, or re-conveyance, is a real action but it is an action in personam, for it binds a particular individual only although it concerns the right to a tangible thing. Any judgment therein is binding only upon the parties properly impleaded.[44]

Since they were not impleaded as parties and given the opportunity to participate in Civil Case No. Q-28580, the final judgment in said case cannot bind BPI Family and the spouses Chan. The effect of the said judgment cannot be extended to BPI Family and the spouses Chan by simply issuing an alias writ of execution against them. No man shall be affected by any proceeding to which he is a stranger, and strangers to a case are not bound by any judgment rendered by the court. In the same manner, a writ of execution can be issued only against a party and not against one who did not have his day in court. Only real parties in interest in an action are bound by the judgment therein and by writs of execution issued pursuant thereto.[45]

A similar situation existed in Dino v. Court of Appeals,[46] where we resolved that:

As the registered owner of the subject property, petitioners are not bound by decision in Civil Case No. R-18073 for they were never summoned in said case and the notice of lis pendens annotated on TCT No. 73069 was already cancelled at the time petitioners purchased the subject property. While it is true that petitioners are indispensable parties in Civil Case No. R-18073, without whom no complete relief could be accorded to the private respondents, the fact still remains that petitioners were never actually joined as defendants in said case. Impleading petitioners as additional defendants only in the execution stage of said case violated petitioners’ right to due process as no notice of lis pendens was annotated on the existing certificate of title of said property nor were petitioners given notice of the pending case, therefore petitioners remain strangers in said case and the Order of the trial court involving them is null and void, considering that petitioners are innocent purchasers of the subject property for value.[47]

We further stress that Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, clearly provides 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.” Herein, several Torrens titles were already issued after the cancellation of Muñoz’s. Certificates of title had been successively issued to Emilia M. Ching, spouses Go, BPI Family, and spouses Chan. Civil Case No. Q-28580, in which a final judgment had already been rendered, specifically challenged the validity of the certificates of title of Emilia M. Ching and the spouses Go only. To have the present certificate of title of the spouses Chan cancelled, Muñoz must institute another case directly attacking the validity of the same.

The fact that the titles to the subject property of Emilia M. Ching and the spouses Go were already declared null and void ab initio by final judgment in Civil Case No. Q-28580 is not enough, for it does not automatically make the subsequent titles of BPI Family and the spouses Chan correspondingly null and void ab initio.

It has long been ingrained in our jurisprudence that a void title may become the root of a valid title if the derivative title was obtained in good faith and for value. Following the principle of indefeasibility of a Torrens title, every person dealing with registered lands may safely rely on the correctness of the certificate of title of the vendor/transferor, and he is not required to go beyond the certificate and inquire into the circumstances culminating in the vendor’s acquisition of the property. The rights of innocent third persons who relied on the correctness of the certificate of title and acquired rights over the property covered thereby cannot be disregarded and the courts cannot order the cancellation of such certificate for that would impair or erode public confidence in the Torrens system of land registration.[48]

Hence, we pronounced in Republic v. Agunoy, Sr.[49]:

Here, it bears stressing that, by petitioner's own judicial admission, the lots in dispute are no longer part of the public domain, and there are numerous third, fourth, fifth and more parties holding Torrens titles in their favor and enjoying the presumption of good faith. This brings to mind what we have reechoed in Pino v. Court of Appeals and the cases therein cited:

[E]ven on the supposition that the sale was void, the general rule that the direct result of a previous illegal contract cannot be valid (on the theory that the spring cannot rise higher than its source) cannot apply here for We are confronted with the functionings of the Torrens System of Registration. The doctrine to follow is simple enough: a fraudulent or forged document of sale may become the ROOT of a valid title if the certificate of title has already been transferred from the name of the true owner to the name of the forger or the name indicated by the forger.[50] (Emphases ours.)

Although the RTC-Branch 95 had declared with finality in Civil Case No. Q-28580 that the titles of Emilia M. Ching and the spouses Go were null and void, there is yet no similar determination on the titles of BPI Family and the spouses Chan. The question of whether or not the titles to the subject property of BPI Family and the spouses Chan are null and void, since they are merely the successors-in-interest, assigns, or privies of Emilia M. Ching and the spouses Go, ultimately depends on the issue of whether or not BPI Family and the spouses Chan obtained their titles to the subject property in bad faith, i.e., with notice of Muñoz’s adverse claim and knowledge of the pendency of Civil Case No. Q-28580. The latter is a factual issue on which we cannot rule in the present petition, not only because we are not a trier of facts, but more importantly, because it was not among the issues raised and tried in Civil Case No. Q-28580.

x x x."