RODOLFO V. FRANCISCO vs. EMILIANA M. ROJAS, and the legitimate heirs of JOSE A. ROJAS, namely: JOSE FERDINAND M. ROJAS II, ROLANDO M. ROJAS, JOSE M. ROJAS, JR., CARMELITA ROJAS-JOSE, VICTOR M. ROJAS, and LOURDES M. ROJAS, all represented by JOSE FERDINAND M. ROJAS II, G.R. No. 167120, April 23, 2014
“x x x.
Truly, one of the appropriate legal remedies that should have been availed of by the Franciscos is an action for reconveyance. Contrary to petitioner’s declaration, proof of actual fraud is not required as it may be filed even when no fraud intervened such as when there is mistake in including the land for registration. In the action for reconveyance, the decree of registration is highly respected as incontrovertible; what is sought instead is the transfer of the property wrongfully or erroneously registered in another’s name to its rightful owner or to the one with a better right.31
An action for reconveyance resulting from fraud prescribes four years from the discovery of the fraud and if it is based on an implied or a constructive trust it prescribes ten (10) years from the alleged fraudulent registration or date of issuance of the certificate of title over the property.32
However, an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive trust is imprescriptible if the plaintiff or the person enforcing the trust is in possession of the property.33 In effect, the action for reconveyance is an action to quiet the property title, which does not prescribe.34 This Court held in Yared v. Tiongco:35
The Court agrees with the CA’s disquisition that an action for reconveyance can indeed be barred by prescription. In a long line of cases decided by this Court, we ruled that an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive trust must perforce prescribe in ten (10) years from the issuance of the Torrens title over the property.
However, there is an exception to this rule. In the case of Heirs of Pomposa Saludares v. Court of Appeals, the Court reiterating the ruling in Millena v. Court of Appeals, held that there is but one instance when prescription cannot be invoked in an action for reconveyance, that is, when the plaintiff is in possession of the land to be reconveyed. In Heirs of Pomposa Saludares, this Court explained that the Court in a series of cases, has permitted the filing of an action for reconveyance despite the lapse of more than ten (10) years from the issuance of title to the land and declared that said action, when based on fraud, is imprescriptible as long as the land has not passed to an innocent buyer for value. But in all those cases, the common factual backdrop was that the registered owners were never in possession of the disputed property. The exception was based on the theory that registration proceedings could not be used as a shield for fraud or for enriching a person at the expense of another.
In Alfredo v. Borras, the Court ruled that prescription does not run against the plaintiff in actual possession of the disputed land because such plaintiff has a right to wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is questioned before initiating an action to vindicate his right. His undisturbed possession gives him the continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his title. The Court held that where the plaintiff in an action for reconveyance remains in possession of the subject land, the action for reconveyance becomes in effect an action to quiet title to property, which is not subject to prescription.
The Court reiterated such rule in the case of Vda. de Cabrera v. Court of Appeals, wherein we ruled that the imprescriptibility of an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive trust applies only when the plaintiff or the person enforcing the trust is not in possession of the property. In effect, the action for reconveyance is an action to quiet the property title, which does not prescribe.
Similarly, in the case of David v. Malay the Court held that there was no doubt about the fact that an action for reconveyance based on an implied trust ordinarily prescribes in ten (10) years. This rule assumes, however, that there is an actual need to initiate that action, for when the right of the true and real owner is recognized, expressly or implicitly such as when he remains undisturbed in his possession, the statute of limitation would yet be irrelevant. An action for reconveyance, if nonetheless brought, would be in the nature of a suit for quieting of title, or its equivalent, an action that is imprescriptible. In that case, the Court reiterated the ruling in Faja v. Court of Appeals which we quote:
x x x There is settled jurisprudence that one who is in actual possession of a piece of land claiming to be owner thereof may wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is attacked before taking steps to vindicate his right, the reason for the rule being, that his undisturbed possession gives him a continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to ascertain and determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his own title, which right can be claimed only by one who is in possession. No better situation can be conceived at the moment for Us to apply this rule on equity than that of herein petitioners whose mother, Felipa Faja, was in possession of the litigated property for no less than 30 years and was suddenly confronted with a claim that the land she had been occupying and cultivating all these years, was titled in the name of a third person. We hold that in such a situation the right to quiet title to the property, to seek its reconveyance and annul any certificate of title covering it, accrued only from the time the one in possession was made aware of a claim adverse to his own, and it is only then that the statutory period of prescription commences to run against such possessor.36
In this case, the Franciscos claim to be in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject lots. It appears that they never lost possession of said properties, and as such, they are in a position to file the complaint with the trial court to protect their alleged rights and clear whatever doubts has been cast thereon.
X x x.”