MARCELA M. DELA CRUZ VS. ANTONIO Q. HERMANO AND HIS WIFE REMEDIOS HERMANO, G.R. No. 160914, March 25, 2015.
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After an exhaustive review of the case record, the Court finds that the Complaint was sufficient in form and substance, but that there was no proof of prior physical possession by respondents.
The Complaint’s allegations sufficiently established the jurisdictional facts required in forcible entry cases.
Section 1, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court, requires that in actions for forcible entry, it must be alleged that the complainant was deprived of the possession of any land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, and that the action was filed anytime within one year from the time the unlawful deprivation of possession took place. This requirement implies that in those cases, possession of the land by the defendant has been unlawful from the beginning, as the possession was obtained by unlawful means. Further, the complainant must allege and prove prior physical possession of the property in litigation until he or she was deprived thereof by the defendant. The one-year period within which to bring an action for forcible entry is generally counted from the date of actual entry into the land, except when entry was made through stealth; if so, the one-year period would be counted from the time the plaintiff learned about it.2
It is not necessary, however, for the complaint to utilize the language of the statute; i.e., to state that the person has been deprived of possession by force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth. A statement of facts showing that dispossession took place under those conditions is sufficient. Still, the complaint must show enough on its face to give the court jurisdiction without resort to parol evidence.3
In the present case, petitioner argues that the Complaint failed to allege prior physical possession, and that the CA skirted the issue of the sufficiency of the allegations therein. Instead, the appellate court allegedly addressed only the principal issue of who had the better right to possess the subject property.
It can be readily seen from the Decision of the CA that it squarely addressed the issue of the sufficiency of the Complaint’s allegations. Thus, contrary to the RTC’s findings, the CA found that the Complaint had sufficiently alleged respondents’ prior physical possession and petitioner’s entry into the property by stealth. Moreover, it differed with the RTC’s finding that the case was not for forcible entry.
The CA discussed these issues as follows:
The complaint subject of this case was captioned as “ejectment”. From a reading of the allegations of the subject Complaint, we find that the action is one for forcible entry. Petitioner alleged that he is the owner of the property registered under TCT No. T-24503; that the possession thereof by respondent on 1 September 2001 was pursuant to an alleged Memorandum of Agreement between her and a certain Don Mario Enciso, without the authority and consent of the petitioner; and that he has served written demands, dated 27 September 2001 and 24 October 2001, but that respondent refused to vacate the property. According to petitioner, the Complaint, which was filed on 13 June 2002, was filed within one year from the occupation of the property.
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Petitioner likewise contends that prior to the disputed possession of respondent, he and his family used the property as their “rest house/vacation place” after their hard day’s work in Metro Manila. He avers that his possession is anchored on TCT No. T-24503. Notably, respondent acknowledged the existence of the muniment of title presented by petitioner. In relation thereto, noteworthy is the fact that respondent has shown no document evidencing proof of ownership over the subject matter except for the unnotarized documents of conveyances executed between her and Don Mario Enciso Benitez and Don Mario Enciso Benitez and petitioner. The fact that the deeds were not notarized nor acknowledged before a notary public raises doubt as to the probative value of said documents. On this matter, evidentiary value weighs in favor of petitioner.
As regards petitioner’s supplication for restoration of possession which is based on his and his family’s use of the subject property prior to the inception of the controversy, the rule is that whatever may be the character of his prior possession, if he has in his favor priority in time, he has the security that entitles him to remain on the property until he is lawfully ejected by a person having a better right. From a reading of the records, it is evident that the petitioner had addressed the element of prior physical possession.
Having established prior possession, the corollary conclusion would be that the entry of respondent – and her subsequent possession of the contested property – was illegal at the inception. Respondent’s entry into the land was effected without the knowledge of petitioner, consequently, it is categorized as possession by stealth.4
The allegations in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Complaint adequately aver prior physical possession by respondents and their dispossession thereof by stealth, because the intrusion by petitioner was without their knowledge and consent. The Court thus agrees with the findings of the CA that contrary to those of the RTC that the case was an action for ejectment in the nature of accion reivindicatoria, the case was actually for forcible entry and sufficient in form.
Likewise, the Court agrees with the CA’s findings that the Complaint was timely filed. It is settled that where forcible entry occurred clandestinely, the one-year prescriptive period should be counted from the time the person who was deprived of possession demanded that the deforciant desist from dispossession when the former learned about it.5 The owners or possessors of the land cannot be expected to enforce their right to its possession against the illegal occupant and sue the latter before learning of the clandestine intrusion. And to deprive lawful possessors of the benefit of the summary action under Rule 70 of the Revised Rules, simply because the stealthy intruder managed to conceal the trespass for more than a year, would be to reward clandestine usurpations even if they are unlawful.6
The title to the property of respondents and their Tax Declaration proved possession de jure, but not their actual possession of the property prior to petitioner’s entry.
The burden of sufficiently alleging prior physical possession carries with it the concomitant burden of establishing one’s case by a preponderance of evidence. To be able to do so, respondents herein must rely on the strength of their own evidence, not on the weakness of that of petitioner. It is not enough that the allegations of a complaint make out a case for forcible entry. The plaintiff must prove prior physical possession. It is the basis of the security accorded by law to a prior occupant of a property until a person with a better right acquires possession thereof.7
The Court has scrutinized the parties’ submissions, but found no sufficient evidence to prove respondents’ allegation of prior physical possession.
To prove their claim of having a better right to possession, respondents submitted their title thereto and the latest Tax Declaration prior to the initiation of the ejectment suit. As the CA correctly observed, petitioner failed to controvert these documents with competent evidence. It erred, however, in considering those documents sufficient to prove respondents’ prior physical possession.
Ownership certainly carries the right of possession, but the possession contemplated is not exactly the same as that which is in issue in a forcible entry case. Possession in a forcible entry suit refers only to possession de facto, or actual or material possession, and not one flowing out of ownership. These are different legal concepts under which the law provides different remedies for recovery of possession. Thus, in a forcible entry case, a party who can prove prior possession can recover the possession even against the owner. Whatever may be the character of the possession, the present occupant of the property has the security to remain on that property if the occupant has the advantage of precedence in time and until a person with a better right lawfully causes eviction.8
Similarly, tax declarations and realty tax payments are not conclusive proofs of possession. They are merely good indicia of possession in the concept of owner based on the presumption that no one in one’s right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in one’s actual or constructive possession.9
Guided by the foregoing, the Court finds that the proofs submitted by respondents only established possession flowing from ownership. Although respondents have claimed from the inception of the controversy up to now that they are using the property as their vacation house, that claim is not substantiated by any corroborative evidence. On the other hand, petitioner’s claim that she started occupying the property in March 2001, and not in September of that year as Antonio alleged in his Complaint, was corroborated by the Affidavit10 of petitioner’s caretaker. Respondents did not present any evidence to controvert that affidavit.
Therefore, respondents failed to discharge their burden of proving the element of prior physical possession. Their uncorroborated claim of that fact, even if made under oath, is self-serving. It does not amount to preponderant evidence, which simply means that which is of greater weight or is more convincing than evidence that is offered in opposition11.
As noted at the outset, it bears stressing that the Court is not a trier of facts. However, the conflicting findings of fact of the MTCC and the RTC, on the one hand, and the CA on the other, compelled us to revisit the records of this case for the proper dispensation of justice.12 Moreover, it must be stressed that the Court’s pronouncements in this case are without prejudice to the parties’ right to pursue the appropriate remedy.
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1 Nenita Quality Foods Corp. v. Galabo, G.R. No. 174191, 30 January 2013, 689 SCRA 569.
2 Ong v. Court of Appeals, 407 Phil 1045 (2001).
3 Abad v. Farrales, G.R. No. 178635, 11 April 2011, 647 SCRA 473; Cajayon v. Batuyong, 517 Phil 648 (2006); David v. Cordova, 502 Phil 626 (2005).
5 See Domalsin v. Sps. Valenciano, 515 Phil 745, 766 (2006).
6 Prieto v. Reyes, 121 Phil 1218, 1220 (1965).
7 Abad v. Farrales, supra.
8 Nenita Quality Foods Corp. v. Galabo, supra; Pajuyo v. Guevarra, G.R. No, 146364, 3 June 2004, 430 SCRA 492.
9 De Grano v. Lacaba, 607 Phil 122 (2009).
11 Lee v. Dela Paz, G.R. No. 183606, 27 October 2009, 604 SCRA 522.
12 Sps. Dela Cruz v. Sps. Capco, G.R. No. 176055, 17 March 2014.