WILFREDO DE VERA, EUFEMIO DE VERA, ROMEO MAPANAO, JR., ROBERTO VALDEZ, HIROHITO ALBERTO, APARICIO RAMIREZ, SR., ARMANDO DE VERA, MARIO DE VERA, RAMIL DE VERA, EVER ALMOGELA ALDA, JUANITO RIBERAL, represented by PACITA PASENA CONDE, ANACLETO PASCUA, ISIDRO RAMIREZ, represented by MARIANO BAINA, SPOUSES TRUDENCIO RAMIREZ and ESTARLITA HONRADA, ARNEL DE VERA, ISABELO MIRETTE, and ROLANDO DE VERA, Petitioners, vs. SPOUSES EUGENIO SANTIAGO, SR., and ESPERANZA H. SANTIAGO, SPOUSES RAMON CAMPOS and WARLITA SANTIAGO, SPOUSES ELIZABETH SANTIAGO and ALARIO MARQUEZ, SPOUSES EFRAEM SANTIAGO and GLORIA SANTIAGO, SPOUSES EUGENIO SANTIAGO, JR. and ALMA CAASI, JUPITER SANTIAGO, and JON-JON CAMOS, Respondents. G.R. No. 179457, June 22, 2015
“x x x.
In resolving the issue of whether the CA erred in annulling the RTC Decision for lack of jurisdiction, the Court is guided by the well-settled rule that "jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case is conferred by law and determined by the allegations in the complaint which comprise a concise statement of the ultimate facts constituting the plaintiff's cause of action. The nature of an action, as well as which court or body has jurisdiction over it, is determined based on the allegations contained in the complaint of the plaintiff, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon all or some of the claims asserted therein. The averments in the complaint and the character of the relief sought are the ones to be consulted. Once vested by the allegations in the complaint, jurisdiction also remains vested irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon all or some of the claims asserted therein."13
The jurisdictions of the RTC and the MTC over civil actions involving title to, or possession of real property or interest therein, like petitioners' action for reconveyance of ownership and possession with damages, are distinctly set forth under Section 19 (2) and Section 33 (3) of B.P. Blg. 129, as amended:
Section 19. Jurisdiction in civil cases.– Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction:
(2) In all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds Twenty thousand pesos (₱20,000.00) or for civil actions in Metro Manila, where such the value exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (₱50,000.00) except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts;
Section 33. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in civil cases.– Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:
(3) Exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (₱20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (₱50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney's fees, litigation expenses and costs: Provided, That value of such property shall be determined by the assessed value of the adjacent lots. (as amended by R.A. No. 7691)
A careful perusal of the allegations in their complaint for reconveyance of ownership and possession with damages, would show that petitioners failed to indicate the assessed value of the subject real property. At any rate, based on the Tax Declarations14 attached to their complaint, the disputed land located in Bolinao, Pangasinan, has a total assessed value of ₱54,370.00. In line with the above-quoted statutory provisions, therefore, the RTC has jurisdiction over petitioners' civil action involving title to a real property outside Metro Manila with a total assessed value in excess of ₱20,000.00.
Thus, while the CA is correct in ruling that the MTC has no jurisdiction over the case for reconveyance and recovery of ownership and possession of a land with an assessed value over ₱20,000.00, the same cannot be said of its ruling with respect to the RTC. Under Section 8, Rule 40 of the Rules of Court, if the MTC tried a case on the merits despite having no jurisdiction over the subject matter, its decision may be reviewed on appeal by the RTC, to wit:
Sec. 8. Appeal from orders dismissing case without trial; lack of jurisdiction.
If an appeal is taken from an order of the lower court dismissing the case without a trial on the merits, the Regional Trial Court may affirm or reverse it, as the case may be. In case of affirmance and the ground of dismissal is lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, the Regional Trial Court, if it has jurisdiction thereover, shall try the case on the merits as if the case was originally filed with it. In case of reversal, the case shall be remanded for further proceedings.
If the case was tried on the merits by the lower court without jurisdiction over the subject matter, the Regional Trial Court on appeal shall not dismiss the case if it has original jurisdiction thereof, but shall decide the case in accordance with the preceding section, without prejudice to the admission of amended pleadings and additional evidence in the interest of justice.15
In Serrano v. Spouses Gutierrez,16 the Court explained that the first paragraph of Section 8, Rule 40 contemplates an appeal from an order of dismissal issued without trial of the case on the merits, while the second paragraph deals with an appeal from an order of dismissal but the case was tried on the merits. Both paragraphs, however, involve the same ground for dismissal, i.e., lack of jurisdiction. Verily, the second paragraph refutes respondents' contention that Section 8, Rule 40 refers solely to cases where the MTC dismissed a case filed therein without a trial on the merits and an appeal to the RTC was taken from the order of dismissal. Therefore, the RTC correctly proceeded to decide the case on the merits despite the MTC's lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.
In contrast, the CA erroneously reversed and set aside the RTC Decision for lack of jurisdiction. Indeed, the RTC has appellate jurisdiction over the case and its decision should be deemed promulgated in the exercise of that jurisdiction. The RTC’s appellate jurisdiction, as contrasted to its original jurisdiction, is provided in Section 22 of B.P. Blg.129, as amended, thus:
SECTION 22. Appellate jurisdiction.–Regional Trial Courts shall exercise appellate jurisdiction over all cases decided by Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in their respective territorial jurisdictions. Such cases shall be decided on the basis of the entire record of the proceedings had in the court of origin such memoranda and/or briefs as may be submitted by the parties or
The above-quoted provision vests upon the RTC the exercise of appellate jurisdiction over all cases decided by the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in their respective territorial jurisdictions. Clearly then, the amount involved is immaterial for purposes of the RTC’s appellate jurisdiction; all cases decided by the MTC are generally appealable to the RTC irrespective of the amount involved.17 Hence, the CA grossly erred in nullifying the RTC Decision for lack of jurisdiction, and in declaring as moot and academic the factual issues raised in the respondents' petition for review when it should have proceeded to review on appeal the factual findings of the RTC. This is because the RTC not only has exclusive original jurisdiction over petitioners' action for reconveyance of ownership and possession with damages, but also appellate jurisdiction over the MTC Decision itself.
On a final note, it bears emphasis that in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, only questions of law may be raised by the parties and passed upon by this Court. This restriction of the review to questions of law has been institutionalized in Section 1, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, the second sentence of which provides that the petition shall raise only questions of law which must be distinctly set forth. Indeed, in the exercise of its power of review, the Court is not a trier of facts and, subject to certain exceptions, it does not normally undertake the reexamination of the evidence presented by the parties during trial.18 In certain exceptional cases, however, the Court may be urged to probe and resolve factual issues, viz.:
(a) When the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises, or conjectures;
(b) When the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd, or impossible;
(c) When there is grave abuse of discretion;
(d) When the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;
(e) When the findings of facts are conflicting;
(f) When in making its findings the CA went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee;
(g) When the CA’s findings are contrary to those by the trial court;
(h) When the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;
(i) When the facts set forth in the petition, as well as in the petitioner’s main and reply briefs, are not disputed by the respondent;
(j) When the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; or
(k) When the CA manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion.19
Not one of those exceptions was shown to obtain in the instant case as would justify a liberal interpretation of procedural rules and a determination of factual issues by the Court. A perusal of petitioners' sole assigned error would readily show that the only issue raised is one of law. There is a question of law when the doubt or difference arises as to what the law is on certain state of facts and which does not call for an existence of the probative value of the evidence presented by the parties-litigants.20 Undeniably, the issue whether the CA erred in annulling the RTC Decision for lack of jurisdiction is a question of law. The resolution of such issue rests solely on what the law [B.P. Blg. 129, as amended] provides on the given set of circumstances as alleged in petitioners' complaint for reconveyance of ownership and possession with damages. Meanwhile, the factual questions necessitating a review of the evidence presented by the parties are raised in the respondents' petition for review filed with the CA. An issue is factual when the doubt or difference arises as to the truth or falsehood of alleged facts, or when the query invites calibration of the whole evidence, considering mainly the credibility of witnesses, existence and relevancy of specific surrounding circumstances, their relation to each other and to the whole, and the probabilities of the situation.21 Without doubt, the following issues duly raised before the CA but it failed to resolve are all questions of fact which are beyond the province of a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45:
I. THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BR. 54, ALAMINOS CITY, PANGASINAN, ERRED IN ORDERING OCT (FP) NO. 15820 IN THE NAME OF JUPITER SANTIAGO, OCT (FP) NO. 15819 IN THE NAME OF EFRAEM SANTIAGO AND GLORIA SANTIAGO; OCT NO. 15765 IN THE NAME OF SPS. ELIZABETH SANTIAGO AND ALMARIO MARQUEZ; OCT (FP) 15755 IN THE NAME OF SPS. EUGENIO SANTIAGO, JR. AND ALMACAASI; OCT (FP) NO 15754 IN THE NAME OF JON-JON SANTIAGO AND OCT (FP) NO. 15818 IN THE NAME OF RAMON CAMPOS, NULL AND VOID, AND ORDERING THEM TO RECONVEY THE AREA INDICATED IN THEIR FREE PATENTS TITLES TO RESPONDENTS (DEFENDANTS IN THE RTC CIVIL CASE NO. A-2750) AND FOR RESPONDENTS TO DIVIDE AMONG THEMSELVES SAID PROPERTY;
II – THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DECLARING THAT FREE PATENT TITLES OF HEREIN PETITIONERS WERE ACQUIRED THRU FRAUD, HENCE, NULL AND VOID;
III – THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE VALIDITY OF TAX DECLARATIONS OF RESPONDENTS (PLAINTIFFS IN CIVIL CASE NO. 939-MTC, BOLINAO, PANGASINAN) OVER THE PROPERTIES IN QUESTION AND DID NOT GIVE DUE CREDENCE OF (SIC) THE TAX DECLARATION OF PETITIONERS;
IV - THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ORDERING PETITIONERS TO PAY RESPONDENTS DAMAGES AS SPECIFIED IN SAID DECISION;
V - THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REVERSING IN TOTO THE DECISION OF THE MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT OF BOLINAO, PANGASINAN AND DECIDING THAT PETITIONERS ARE NOT THE OWNERS OF THE PROPERTIES SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS CASE (CIVIL CASE NO. 939-MTC, BOLINAO, PANGASINAN.22
In view of the foregoing discussion, the Court no longer finds any necessity to delve into the parties' contentions relative to the principles of indefeasibility and incontrovertibility of Torrens Titles, and immunity of such titles from collateral attack. However, a remand of the case to the CA is necessary in order to fully resolve all the above-quoted factual issues raised in the respondents' petition for review.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated May 29, 2007 and its Resolution dated August 22, 2007 in CA-G.R. SP No. 79769 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE, The case is REMANDED to the Court of Appeals for the prompt resolution of the factual issues raised in the respondents' petition for review of the Decision dated June 14, 2002 of the Regional Trial Court of Alaminos City, Pangasinan, Branch 64.
X x x.”