Sunday, July 22, 2012

How to interpret the Constitution -

"x x x.

There are three well-settled principles of constitutional construction:first, verba legis, that is, wherever possible, the words used in the Constitution should be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed; second, where there is ambiguity, ratio legis est anima, meaning that the words of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the intent of its framers; and third, ut magis valeat quam pereat, meaning that the Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole.3

x x x."

JBC composition; how to interpret the letter and spirit of the Constitution -

"x x x.

Finally, while the Court finds wisdom in respondents' contention that both the Senate and the House of Representatives should be equally represented in the JBC, the Court is not in a position to stamp its imprimatur on such a construction at the risk of expanding the meaning of the Constitution as currently worded. Needless to state, the remedy lies in the amendment of this constitutional provision. The courts merely give effect to the lawgiver's intent. The solemn power and duty of the Court to interpret and apply the law does not include the power to correct, by reading into the law what is not written therein.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The current numerical composition of the Judicial and Bar Council IS declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Judicial and Bar Council is hereby enjoined to reconstitute itself so that only one ( 1) member of Congress will sit as a representative in its proceedings, in accordance with Section 8( 1 ), Article VI I I of the 1987 Constitution.

This disposition is immediately executory.


x x x."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Retirement of a judge under RA 910 vs. RA 1616 distinguished - A.M. No. 14061- Ret

A.M. No. 14061- Ret

"x x x.

          In his letter, Judge Macarambon requests that he be allowed to retire   under Section 1 of RA No. 910, as amended, the pertinent portions of which read:

 SECTION 1. When a Justice of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, or of the Court of Tax Appeals, or a Judge of the regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, municipal circuit trial court, shari'a district court, shari'a circuit court, or any other court hereafter established who has rendered at least fifteen (15) years service in the Judiciary or in any other branch of the Government, or in both, (a) retires for having attained the age of seventy years, or (b) resigns by reason of his/her incapacity to discharge the duties of his/her office as certified by the Supreme Court, he/she shall receive during the residue of his/her natural life, in the manner hereinafter provided, the salary which plus the highest monthly aggregate of transportation, representation and other allowances such as personal economic relief allowance (PERA) and additional compensation allowance which he/she was receiving at the time of his/her retirement, or resignation, and non-wage benefit in the form of education scholarship to one (1) child of all Justices and Judges to free tuition fee in a state university or college: Provided, That such grant will cover only one (1) bachelor's degree. When a Justice of the Sandiganbayan or of the Court of Tax Appeals, or a Judge of the regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, municipal circuit trial court, shari'a district court, shari'a circuit court, or any other court hereafter established has attained the age of sixty (60) years and has rendered at least fifteen (15) years service in the Government, the last three (3) of which shall have been continuously rendered in the Judiciary, he/she shall likewise be entitled to retire and receive during the residue of his/her natural life also in the manner hereinafter provided, the salary plus the highest monthly aggregate of transportation, representation and other allowances such as personal economic relief allowance (PERA) and additional compensation allowance which he/she was then receiving and the non-wage benefit in the form of education scholarship to one (1) child of all Justices and Judges to free tuition fee in a state university or college:  x  x  x .

Judge Macarambon asserts that Section 1 allows the payment of retirement benefits to a judge of the RTC who resigns by reason of incapacity to discharge the duties of his office. Citing the case of Re: Application for Retirement under R.A. No. 910 of Associate Justice Ramon B. Britanico of the Intermediate Appellate Court, he posits that his appointment as COMELEC Commissioner incapacitated him to discharge his duties as an RTC judge on account of his “submission to the will of the political authority and appointing power.”

  As an alternative, he appeals that he be allowed to retire under the second sentence of Section 1 considering that he has rendered a total of 18 years, 1 month and 16 days of judicial service and a total of 35 years of government service.  Judge Macarabon claims that while he was short of the minimum age requirement of 60, he believes that the Court’s ruling in Re: Gregorio G. Pineda[1] is applicable to his case where the Court brushed aside such requirement and considered the retiree’s career which was marked with competence, integrity, and dedication to public service.

In his Memorandum, the Court Administrator disagreed with Judge Macarambon’s position. The Court Administrator averred:

We humbly submit that Judge Macarambon’s case is different from that of Justice Britanico’s. Justice Britanico, together with the other Members of the Judiciary at that time, was ordered by then President Corazon C. Aquino, through Proclamation No. 1, to tender their courtesy resignations. The decision as to whether or not they would stay in their office was the prerogative of then President Aquino. On the contrary, the prerogative to accept the appointment as a COMELEC Commissioner depended entirely on Judge Macarambon. He had the choice of whether or not to accept the appointment of being a Commissioner or to stay as a RTC Judge. Therefore, his appointment as a COMELEC Commissioner did not render him incapacitated to discharge the duties of his office as a RTC Judge.

Nonetheless, based on the documents submitted, Judge Macarambon may retire under R.A. No. 1616, as he meets all the requirements for retirement under the said law, i.e., has been in the government service as of 01 June 1977 and has rendered at least twenty (20) years government service, the last three (3) years of which have been continuous.

The sole issue is whether we can allow a judge who voluntarily resigned from his judicial office before reaching the optional retirement age to receive retirement benefits under RA No. 910, as amended.

Resignation and retirement are two distinct concepts carrying different meanings and legal consequences in our jurisdiction.  While an employee can resign at any time, retirement entails the compliance with certain age and service requirements specified by law and jurisprudence.  Resignation stems from the employee’s own intent and volition to resign and relinquish his/her post.[2]  Retirement takes effect by operation of law. In terms of severance to one’s employment, resignation absolutely cuts-off the employment relationship in general; in retirement, the employment relationship endures for the purpose of the grant of retirement benefits. 

RA No. 910, as amended allows the grant of retirement benefits to a justice or judge who has either retired from judicial service or resigned from judicial office.

In case of retirement, a justice or judge must show compliance with the age and service requirements as provided in RA No. 910, as amended. The second sentence of Section 1 imposes the following minimum requirements for optional retirement:

(a)   must have attained the age of sixty (60) years old; and

(b) must have rendered at least fifteen (15) years service in the Government,  the  last three  (3)  of which  shall  have  been continuously rendered in the Judiciary.

Strict compliance with the age and service requirements under the law is the rule and the grant of exception remains to be on a case to case basis.[3]  We have ruled that the Court allows seemingexceptions to these fixed rules for certain judges and justices only and whenever there are ample reasons to grant such exception.[4]    

On the other hand, resignation under RA No. 910, as amended must be “by reason of incapacity todischarge the duties of the office.” In Britanico, we held that the resignation contemplated under RA No. 910, as amended must have the element of involuntariness on the part of the justice or judge.  More than physical or mental disability to discharge the judicial office, the involuntariness must spring from the intent of the justice or judge who would not have parted with his/her judicial employment were it not for the presence of circumstances and/or factors beyond his/her control. 

In either of the two instances above-mentioned, Judge Macarambon’s case does not render him eligible to retire under RA No. 910, as amended.

First, Judge Macarambon failed to satisfy the age requirement as shown by the records and by his own admission that he was less than 60 years of age when he resigned from his judicial office before transferring to the COMELEC. Likewise, he failed to satisfy the service requirement not having been in continuous service with the Judiciary for three (3) years prior to his retirement.

Second, Judge Macarambon’s resignation was not by reason of incapacity to discharge the duties of the office.  His separation from judicial employment was of his own accord and volition. Thus, our ruling in Britanico cannot be properly applied to his case since his resignation was voluntary.

  Third, we find no exceptional reasons to justify Judge Macarambon’s request. In Re: Gregorio Pineda, the case cited by Judge Macarambon, the Court fully explained how a liberal approach in the application of retirement laws should be construed, thus:

The rule is that retirement laws are construed liberally in favor of the retiring employee. However, when in the interest of liberal construction the Court allows seeming exceptions to fixed rules for certain retired Judges or Justices, there are ample reasons behind each grant of an exception. The crediting of accumulated leaves to make up for lack of required age or length of service is not done indiscriminately. It is always on a case to case basis.

In some instances, the lacking element-such as the time to reach an age limit or comply with length of service is de minimis. It could be that the amount of accumulated leave credits is tremendous in comparison to the lacking period of time.

More important, there must be present an essential factor before an application under the Plana or Britanico rulings may be granted. The Court allows a making up or compensating for lack of required age or service only if satisfied that the career of the retiree was marked by competence, integrity, and dedication to the public service; it was only a bowing to policy considerations and an acceptance of the realities of political will which brought him or her to premature retirement.[5]

          In this case, Judge Macarambon failed to present similar circumstances, i.e., the presence of available and sufficient accumulated leave credits which we may tack in to comply with the age requirement. A verification from the Leave Division, OCA shows that at the time he left the Court on November 5, 2007, Judge Macarambon only had 514 vacation leaves and 79 sick leaves which are insufficient to cover the gap in the age of retirement.  Moreover, these accumulated leave credits were all forwarded to the COMELEC upon his transfer. Further, we already stated that unlike in Britanico, the nature of his separation from his judicial office was voluntary.

 All told, we are not unmindful of Judge Macarambon’s long and dedicated service in the government for which he is undeniably entitled to be rewarded.  We agree with the Court Administrator that although Judge Macarambon is not qualified to retire under RA No. 910, as amended, he may retire under RA No. 1616 based on the documents he had presented before the Court which meets the age and service requirements under the said law.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we resolve to:

(1) NOTE the Memorandum dated April 3, 2012 of Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez; and

(2) DENY the letter-request dated September 15, 2011 of Judge Moslemen T. Macarambon to retire under Republic Act No. 910, as amended by Republic Act No. 9946 for lack of legal basis.

Judge Macarambon is hereby ADVISED to file an application for optional retirement under Republic Act No. 1616 with the Government Service Insurance System, subject to the submission of the requirements for retirement, and to the deduction of the retirement gratuity he received from his previous retirement, if there be any, and subject finally to the availability of funds and the usual clearance requirements.


x x x."

Indirect contempt; how commenced - G.R. No. 160641

G.R. No. 160641

"x x x.

The issue of indirect contempt needs further discussion because while the Order of the RTC to allow audit of books of HEVRI has been rendered moot, it does not change the fact that at the time that the Order was a standing pronouncement, petitioners refused to heed it.  Section 3, paragraph (b), Rule 71 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 3. Indirect contempt to be punished after charge and hearing. – After a charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt:

x x x x

(b) Disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process, order or judgment of a court, x x x.

Contempt of court is defined as a disobedience to the Court by acting in opposition to its authority, justice and dignity.  It signifies not only a willful disregard or disobedience of the court’s orders, but such conduct which tends to bring the authority of the court and the administration of law into disrepute or in some manner to impede the due administration of justice. Contempt of court is a defiance of the authority, justice or dignity of the court; such conduct as tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or to interfere with or prejudice parties-litigant or their witnesses during litigation.[18] The asseverations made by petitioners to justify their refusal to allow inspection or audit were rejected by the trial court.
It may be noted that a person may be charged with indirect contempt by either of two alternative ways, namely: (1) by a verified petition, if initiated by a party; or (2) by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt, if made by a court against which the contempt is committed. In short, a charge of indirect contempt must be initiated through a verified petition, unless the charge is directly made by the court against which the contemptuous act is committed.[19]

The RTC initiated the contempt charge.  In the Order[20] dated 9 January 2002, petitioners were directed to appear in court and to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court for their refusal to allow Financial Catalyst, Inc. to audit the books of HEVRI.  Petitioners filed an urgent motion for reconsideration claiming that said order was the subject of a pending petition before the Court of Appeals and that they can only be cited for contempt by the filing of a verified petition.  The RTC denied the motion and reiterated in its Order on 26 April 2002 explaining that it chose to initiate the contempt charge. 

The RTC acted on the basis of the unjustified refusal of petitioners to abide by its lawful order.  It is of no moment that private respondents may have filed several pleadings to urge the RTC to cite petitioners in contempt. Petitioners utterly violated an order issued by the trial court which act is considered contemptuous.  Thus, in Leonidas v. Judge Supnet,[21] the MTC’s order to the bank to show cause why it should not be held in contempt, was adjudged as a legitimate exercise of the MTC’s judicial discretion to determine whether the bank should be sanctioned for disregarding its previous orders.  Independently of the motions filed by the opposing party, it was the MTC which commenced the contempt proceedings motu proprio. No verified petition is required if proceedings for indirect contempt are initiated in this manner, and the absence of a verified petition does not affect the procedure adopted.[22]

The RTC’s issuance of a warrant of arrest was pursuant to Section 8, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, which reads:

Sec. 8.  Imprisonment until order obeyed. - When the contempt consists in the refusal or omission to do an act which is yet in the power of the respondent to perform, he may be imprisoned by order of the court concerned until he performs it.

However, the foregoing notwithstanding, the warrant and the contempt proceedings that preceded it were all similarly mooted by the dismissal of the main petition for dissolution of HEVRI.  Given the mootness of the issues of inspection and audit, the very orders refused to be obeyed by petitioners, the citation of contempt and its consequences necessarily became moot.
x x x."

Jurisdiction and estoppel - G.R. No. 171905

G.R. No. 171905

"x x x.

Basic is the rule that a party cannot be allowed to invoke the jurisdiction of a court to secure affirmative relief and later on renounce or repudiate the same after it fails to obtain such relief.[28]  After voluntarily submitting a cause and encountering an adverse decision on the merits, it is too late for the loser to question the jurisdiction or power of the court.  The Court frowns upon the undesirable practice of a party submitting his case for decision and then accepting the judgment, only if favorable, and attacking it for lack of jurisdiction, when adverse.[29]

The Court has likewise consistently rejected the pernicious practice of shifting to a new theory on appeal in the hope of a favorable result.  Fair play, justice and due process require that as a rule new matters cannot be raised for the first time before an appellate tribunal.[30]  Failure to assert issues and arguments “within a reasonable time” warrants a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned or declined to assert it.[31]

x x x."

Void for lack of jurisdiction - G.R. No. 181548

G.R. No. 181548

"x x x.

On this point, our disquisition in Spouses Atuel v. Spouses Valdez[16] is instructive, thus:

            Jurisdiction over the subject matter cannot be acquired through, or waived by, any act or omission of the parties.  The active participation of the parties in the proceedings before the DARAB does not vest jurisdiction on the DARAB, as jurisdiction is conferred only by law.   The courts or the parties cannot disregard the rule of non-waiver of jurisdiction.  Likewise, estoppel does not apply to confer jurisdiction to a tribunal that has none over a cause of action.  The failure of the parties to challenge the jurisdiction of the DARAB does not prevent this Court from addressing the issue, as the DARAB’s lack of jurisdiction is apparent on the face of the complaint.   Issues of jurisdiction are not subject to the whims of the parties.

In a long line of decisions, this Court has consistently held that an order or decision rendered by a tribunal or agency without jurisdiction is a total nullity.  Accordingly, we rule that the decision of the DARAB in the instant case is null and void.  Consequently, the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the decision of the DARAB is likewise invalid.  This Court finds no compelling reason to rule on the other issues raised by the Spouses Atuel and the Spouses Galdiano.[17] (Citations omitted and emphases supplied)

 x x x."

Agrarian reform: Jurisdiction of PARAD, DARAB. - G.R. No. 181548

G.R. No. 181548

"x x x.

The petitioners’ complaint for amendment and partition is beyond the jurisdiction of the PARAD and the DARAB

Where a question of jurisdiction between the DARAB and the RTC is at the core of a dispute, basic jurisprudential tenets come into play.  It is the rule that the jurisdiction of a tribunal, including a quasi-judicial office or government agency, over the nature and subject matter of a petition or complaint is determined by the material allegations therein and the character of the relief prayed for irrespective of whether the petitioner or complainant is entitled to any or all such reliefs.[12]

          Accordingly, we turn to the petitioners’ complaint for amendment and partition, wherein they alleged that:

2. The subject agricultural land identified as Lot No. C, Psd-03-091057 (AR) consisting of an area of 9,536 square meters more or less situated at Brgy. Caingin, Bocaue, Bulacan, was formerly owned by Pedro Lazaro and was tenanted by SPOUSES JOSE DEL ROSARIO AND FLORENTINA DE GUZMAN, the late grandparents of herein petitioners, as the registered tenant-farmers over the subject agricultural land devoted to planting of palay;

3. When the late grandparents of herein petitioners died, the children of the former, specifically, brothers CANDIDO DEL ROSARIO and GIL DEL ROSARIO, predecessors-in-interest of herein petitioners, continued in the tillage of the subject agricultural land;

x x x x

6. The EP was issued by the DAR to the respondent with the help of her brother Gil Del Rosario who, aside from shouldering all expenses relative thereto, lodged the petition in Monica del Rosario’s name for the issuance of EP over the subject agricultural land being tilled by them, including the co-tenant farmers that are adjacent and adjoining in that area;

7. The respondent, after receiving the EP over the subject agricultural land, refused to give the shares of her brothers (predecessors-in-interest of herein petitioners) and subdivide equally the subject land among them, they being surviving heirs of their late parents who first tilled the subject agricultural land despite persistent demand;

x x x x

10. An agreement was likewise entered into by the respondent and the other tenant farmers of the adjoining lots, with the late Gil del Rosario dated February 1991, committing themselves that after the issuance of their EPs by the DAR, the ONE THIRD (1/3) portion of their tillage will be segregated and given to her brother Gil del Rosario in consideration of the assistance of the latter, x x x;

x x x x

12. The petitioners are seeking the assistance of this Honorable Board to amend and partition the EP issued to the respondent and the subject agricultural land be divided equally among the respondent and the predecessors-in-interest of herein petitioners;[13]  (Emphasis supplied)

Based on these allegations, the petitioners sought the following reliefs:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, it [is] most respectfully prayed of this Honorable Board that after due hearing, judgment be rendered in the above-entitled petition as follows:

(a)                Ordering respondent to partition or subdivide equally among the respondent and herein petitioners, in representation of their respective predecessors-in-interest, the subject agricultural land;

(b)               Ordering respondent to stop collecting lease rentals from the herein petitioners relative to their establishments and those erected by their predecessors-in-interest;

(c)                Ordering respondent to stop cutting [of] trees and other improvements thereon established by the herein petitioners and their predecessors-in-interest;

(d)               Ordering respondent to allow the petitioners to plant palay or vegetable plants (sic) over the agricultural land occupied by them;

(e)                Ordering respondent to pay attorney’s fees of [P]50,000.00 to petitioners and costs of litigation.[14]  (Emphasis supplied)

A perusal of the foregoing will readily show that the complaint essentially sought the following:first, the enforcement of the agreement entered into by and between Gil and Monica wherein the latter promised to cede to the former one-third portion of the subject land upon the issuance of the emancipation patent over the same; and second, the recovery of petitioners’ purported hereditary share over the subject land, in representation of Gil and Candido.

Indubitably, the said complaint for amendment and partition does not involve any “agrarian dispute,” nor does it involve any incident arising from the implementation of agrarian laws.  The petitioners and Monica have no tenurial, leasehold, or any agrarian relations whatsoever that will bring this controversy within the jurisdiction of the PARAD and the DARAB.  Since the PARAD and the DARAB have no jurisdiction over the present controversy, they should not have taken cognizance of the petitioners’ complaint for amendment of the Emancipation Patent and partition.

Further, the instant case does not involve an “incident arising from the implementation of agrarian laws” as would place it within the jurisdiction of the PARAD and the DARAB.  Admittedly, the petitioners alleged that it was Gil and Candido who continued the tillage of the subject land after the death of Spouses Del Rosario.  While the foregoing allegation seems to raise a challenge to Monica’s qualification as a farmer-beneficiary of the subject land, we nevertheless find the same insufficient to clothe the PARAD and the DARAB with jurisdiction over the complaint.

While ostensibly assailing Monica’s qualification as a farmer-beneficiary, the petitioners did not seek the nullification of the emancipation patent issued to Monica and the issuance of a new one in their names.  Instead, the petitioners merely sought that the subject land be equally partitioned among the surviving heirs of Spouses Del Rosario, including Monica.  Verily, by merely asking for the recovery of their alleged hereditary share in the subject land, the petitioners implicitly recognized the validity of the issuance of the emancipation patent over the subject land in favor of Monica.
x x x."

Ejectment: Allegation of possession of the property in dispute since time immemorial is not a defense. Such possession, for whatever length of time, cannot prevail over a Torrens title, the validity of which is presumed and immune to any collateral attack. - G.R. No. 182716

G.R. No. 182716

"x x x.

The point of inquiry is whether the respondents have the right to evict the petitioners from the subject property and this should be resolved in the respondents’ favor. Between the petitioners’ unsubstantiated self-serving claim that their father inherited the contested portion of Lot No. 3517 and the respondents’ Torrens title, the latter must prevail. The respondents’ title over such area is evidence of their ownership thereof. That a certificate of title serves as evidence of an indefeasible and incontrovertible title to the property in favor of the person whose name appears therein and that a person who has a Torrens title over a land is entitled to the possession thereof[16] are fundamental principles observed in this jurisdiction. Alternatively put, the respondents’ title and that of their predecessors-in-interest give rise to the reasonable presumption that the petitioners have no right over the subject area and that their stay therein was merely tolerated. The petitioners failed to overcome this presumption, being inadequately armed by a narration that yearns for proof and corroboration. The petitioners harped that the subject area was their father’s share in his parents’ estate but the absence of any evidence that such property was indeed adjudicated to their father impresses that their claim of ownership is nothing but a mere afterthought. In fact, Lot No. 3517 was already registered in Maria’s name when Jose Sr. built the house where the petitioners are now presently residing. It is rather specious that Jose Sr. chose inaction despite Maria’s failure to cause the registration of the subject area in his name and would be contented with a bungalow that is erected on a property that is supposedly his but registered in another’s name. That there is allegedly an unwritten agreement between Maria and Virginia that Jose Sr.’s and the petitioners’ possession of the subject area would remain undisturbed was never proven, hence, cannot be the basis for their claim of ownership. Rather than proving that Jose Sr. and the petitioners have a right over the disputed portion of Lot No. 3517, their possession uncoupled with affirmative action to question the titles of Maria and the respondents show that the latter merely tolerated their stay.

          Forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases are summary proceedings designed to provide for an expeditious means of protecting actual possession or the right to the possession of the property involved. The avowed objective of actions for forcible entry and unlawful detainer, which have purposely been made summary in nature, is to provide a peaceful, speedy and expeditious means of preventing an alleged illegal possessor of property from unjustly continuing his possession for a long time, thereby ensuring the maintenance of peace and order in the community.[17] The said objectives can only be achieved by according the proceedings a summary nature. However, its being summary poses a limitation on the nature of issues that can be determined and fully ventilated. It is for this reason that the proceedings are concentrated on the issue on possession. Thus, whether the petitioners have a better right to the contested area and whether fraud attended the issuance of Maria’s title over Lot No. 3517 are issues that are outside the jurisdiction and competence of a trial court in actions for unlawful detainer and forcible entry. This is in addition to the long-standing rule that a Torrens title cannot be collaterally attacked, to which an ejectment proceeding, is not an exception.

          In Soriente v. Estate of the Late Arsenio E. Concepcion,[18] a similar allegation – possession of the property in dispute since time immemorial – was met with rebuke as such possession, for whatever length of time, cannot prevail over a Torrens title, the validity of which is presumed and immune to any collateral attack.

            In this case, the trial court found that respondent owns the property on the basis of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 12892, which was “issued in the name of Arsenio E. Concepcion, x x x married to Nenita L. Songco.”  It is a settled rule that the person who has a Torrens title over a land is entitled to possession thereof.  Hence, as the registered owner of the subject property, respondent is preferred to possess it.

The validity of respondent’s certificate of title cannot be attacked by petitioner in this case for ejectment.  Under Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, a certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack.  It cannot be altered, modified or cancelled, except in a direct proceeding for that purpose in accordance with law.  The issue of the validity of the title of the respondents can only be assailed in an action expressly instituted for that purpose.  Whether or not petitioner has the right to claim ownership over the property is beyond the power of the trial court to determine in an action for unlawful detainer.[19]  (Citations omitted)

          In Salandanan,[20] the prohibition against the collateral attack of a Torrens title was reiterated:

            In Malison, the Court emphasized that when [a] property is registered under the Torrens system, the registered owner’s title to the property is presumed and cannot be collaterally attacked, especially in a mere action for unlawful detainer.  In this particular action where petitioner’s alleged ownership cannot be established, coupled with the presumption that respondents’ title to the property is legal, then the lower courts are correct in ruling that respondents are the ones entitled to possession of the subject premises.[21] (Citation omitted)

Given the foregoing, the petitioners’ attempt to remain in possession by casting a cloud on the respondents’ title cannot prosper.

          Neither will the sheer lapse of time legitimize the petitioners’ refusal to vacate the subject area or bar the respondents from gaining possession thereof.  As ruled in Spouses Ragudo v. Fabella Estate Tenants Association, Inc.,[22] laches does not operate to deprive the registered owner of a parcel of land of his right to recover possession thereof:

            It is not disputed that at the core of this controversy is a parcel of land registered under the Torrenssystem.  In a long line of cases, we have consistently ruled that lands covered by a title cannot be acquired by prescription or adverse possession.  So it is that in Natalia Realty Corporation vs. Vallez, et al., we held that a claim of acquisitive prescription is baseless when the land involved is a registered land because of Article 1126 of the Civil Code, in relation to Act 496 (now, Section 47 of Presidential Decree No. 1529).

            x x x x

            Petitioners would take exception from the above settled rule by arguing that FETA as well as its predecessor[-]in[-]interest, Don Dionisio M. Fabella, are guilty of laches and should, therefore, be already precluded from asserting their right as against them, invoking, in this regard, the rulings of this Court to the effect that while a registered land may not be acquired by prescription, yet, by virtue of the registered owner’s inaction and neglect, his right to recover the possession thereof may have been converted into a stale demand.

            While, at a blush, there is apparent merit in petitioners’ posture, a closer look at our jurisprudence negates their submission.

            To start with, the lower court found that petitioners’ possession of the subject lot was merely at the tolerance of its former lawful owner.  In this connection, Bishop vs. Court of Appeals teaches that if the claimant’s possession of the land is merely tolerated by its lawful owner, the latter’s right to recover possession is never barred by laches.

As registered owners of the lots in question, the private respondents have a right to eject any person illegally occupying their property.  This right is imprescriptible.  Even if it be supposed that they were aware of the petitioners’ occupation of the property, and regardless of the length of that possession, the lawful owners have a right to demand the return of their property at any time as long as the possession was unauthorized or merely tolerated, if at all.  This right is never barred by laches.[23]  (Citations omitted)

It is, in fact, the petitioners who are guilty of laches. Petitioners, who claimed that Maria fraudulently registered the subject area inherited by their father, did not lift a finger to question the validity of OCT No. 543, which was issued in 1929. Petitioners waited for the lapse of a substantial period of time and if not for the respondents’ demands to vacate, they would not have bothered to assert their father’s supposed successional rights. The petitioners’ inaction is contrary to the posture taken by a reasonably diligent person whose rights have supposedly been trampled upon and the pretense of ignorance does not provide justification or refuge. Maria was able to register Lot No. 3517 in her name as early as 1929 and respondents acquired title in April 5, 1968 and knowledge of these events is imputed to the petitioners by the fact of registration.

x x x."

Seafarer's death benefits - G.R. No. 191563

G.R. No. 191563

"x x x.

          From the foregoing, we can thus conclude that at the time of Edwin's death on April 13, 2006 due to GBM, he was still in the employment of the respondents.  While it is true that Article 22.1 of the IBF/AMOSUP/IMMAJ CBA considers a seafarer as terminated when he signs off from the vessel due to sickness, the foregoing is subject to the provisions of Article 29.   Under Article 29, a seafarer remains under the respondents' employ as long as the former is still entitled to medical assistance and sick pay, and provided that the death which eventually occurs is directly attributable to the sickness which caused the seafarer's employment to be terminated.  As discussed above, the company-designated physician, Dr. Cruz, in effect admitted that Edwin was repatriated due to symptoms which a person suffering from GBM normally exhibits.  Further, he recommended to Capt. Millalos Edwin's entitlement to medical assistance and sick pay for a period beyond 130 days from repatriation.  Edwin subsequently died of GBM, the symptoms of which were the cause of his earlier repatriation.  Hence, since Edwin's death is reasonably connected to the cause of his repatriation, within the purview of the IBF/AMOSUP/IMMAJ CBA, he indubitably died while under the respondents' employ, thus, entitling the petitioners to death benefits as provided for in Appendix 3 of the said CBA.

x x x."

Misconduct (theft) as ground to dismiss a worker - G.R. No. 193676

G.R. No. 193676

"x x x.

It must be noted that in the case at bar, all the lower tribunals were in agreement that Fermin’s act of taking Braga’s cellphone amounted to theft. Factual findings made by administrative agencies, if established by substantial evidence as borne out by the records, are final and binding on this Court, whose jurisdiction is limited to reviewing questions of law.[25] The only disputed issue left for resolution is whether the imposition of the penalty of dismissal was appropriate. We rule in the affirmative.
Theft committed against a co-employee is considered as a case analogous to serious misconduct, for which the penalty of dismissal from service may be meted out to the erring employee,[26] viz:
Article 282 of the Labor Code provides:

Article 282. Termination by Employer. - An employer may terminate an employment for any of the following causes:
(a) Serious misconduct or willful disobendience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or his representatives in connection with his work;
x x x                            x x x                           x x x
(e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.

Misconduct involves “the transgression of some established and definite rule of action, forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment.” For misconduct to be serious and therefore a valid ground for dismissal, it must be:

1. of grave and aggravated character and not merely trivial or unimportant and
2. connected with the work of the employee.

In this case, petitioner dismissed respondent based on the NBI's finding that the latter stole and used Yuseco’s credit cards. But since the theft was not committed against petitioner itself but against one of its employees, respondent's misconduct was not work-related and therefore, she could not be dismissed for serious misconduct.

Nonetheless, Article 282(e) of the Labor Code talks of other analogous causes or those which are susceptible of comparison to another in general or in specific detail. For an employee to be validly dismissed for a cause analogous to those enumerated in Article 282, the cause must involve a voluntary and/or willful act or omission of the employee.

A cause analogous to serious misconduct is a voluntary and/or willful act or omission attesting to an employee’s moral depravity. Theft committed by an employee against a person other than his employer, if proven by substantial evidence, is a cause analogous to serious misconduct.[27] (Emphasis supplied.)
In this case, the LA has already made a factual finding, which was affirmed by both the NLRC and the CA, that Fermin had committed theft when he took Braga’s cellphone. Thus, this act is deemed analogous to serious misconduct, rendering Fermin’s dismissal from service just and valid.
x x x."

Unlawful detainer; how to count 1-year demand G.R. No. 194880

G.R. No. 194880

"x x x.

Whether or not petitioners’ action for unlawful detainer was brought within one year after the unlawful withholding of possession will determine whether it was properly filed with the MeTC. If, as petitioners argue, the one-year period should be counted from respondent Sunvar’s receipt on 03 February 2009 of the Final Notice to Vacate, then their Complaint was timely filed within the one-year period and appropriately taken cognizance of by the MeTC. However, if the reckoning period is pegged from the expiration of the main lease contract and/or sublease agreement, then petitioners’ proper remedy should have been an accion publiciana to be filed with the RTC.
The Court finds that petitioners correctly availed themselves of an action for unlawful detainer and, hence, reverses the ruling of the RTC.
Under the Rules of Court, lessors against whom possession of any land is unlawfully withheld after the expiration of the right to hold possession may – by virtue of any express or implied contract, and within one year after the unlawful deprivation – bring an action in the municipal trial court against the person unlawfully withholding possession, for restitution of possession with damages and costs.[60]Unless otherwise stipulated, the action of the lessor shall commence only after a demand to pay or to comply with the conditions of the lease and to vacate is made upon the lessee; or after a written notice of that demand is served upon the person found on the premises, and the lessee fails to comply therewith within 15 days in the case of land or 5 days in the case of buildings.[61]
In Delos Reyes v. Spouses Odenes,[62] the Court recently defined the nature and scope of an unlawful detainer suit, as follows:
Unlawful detainer is an action to recover possession of real property from one who illegally withholds possession after the expiration or termination of his right to hold possession under any contract, express or implied. The possession by the defendant in unlawful detainer is originally legal but became illegal due to the expiration or termination of the right to possess. The proceeding is summary in nature, jurisdiction over which lies with the proper MTC or metropolitan trial court. The action must be brought up within one year from the date of last demand, and the issue in the case must be the right to physical possession. (Emphasis supplied.)
Hence, a complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action for unlawful detainer if it states the following elements:
1.       Initially, the possession of the property by the defendant was by contract with or by tolerance of the plaintiff.

2.       Eventually, the possession became illegal upon the plaintiff’s notice to the defendant of the termination of the latter’s right of possession.

3.       Thereafter, the defendant remained in possession of the property and deprived the plaintiff of the latter’s enjoyment.

4.       Within one year from the making of the last demand on the defendant to vacate the property, the plaintiff instituted the Complaint for ejectment.[63]
“On the other hand, accion publiciana is the plenary action to recover the right of possession which should be brought in the proper regional trial court when dispossession has lasted for more than one year. It is an ordinary civil proceeding to determine the better right of possession of realty independently of title. In other words, if at the time of the filing of the complaint, more than one year had elapsed since defendant had turned plaintiff out of possession or defendant’s possession had become illegal, the action will be, not one of forcible entry or illegal detainer, but an accion publiciana.[64]
There are no substantial disagreements with respect to the first three requisites for an action for unlawful detainer. Respondent Sunvar initially derived its right to possess the subject property from its sublease agreements with TRCFI and later on with PDAF. However, with the expiration of the lease agreements on 31 December 2002, respondent lost possessory rights over the subject property. Nevertheless, it continued occupying the property for almost seven years thereafter. It was only on 03 February 2009 that petitioners made a final demand upon respondent Sunvar to turn over the property. What is disputed, however, is the fourth requisite of an unlawful detainer suit.
The Court rules that the final requisite is likewise availing in this case, and that the one-year period should be counted from the final demand made on 03 February 2009.
Contrary to the reasoning of the RTC,[65] the one-year period to file an unlawful detainer case is not counted from the expiration of the lease contract on 31 December 2002. Indeed, the last demand for petitioners to vacate is the reckoning period for determining the one-year period in an action for unlawful detainer. “Such one year period should be counted from the date of plaintiff’s last demand on defendant to vacate the real property, because only upon the lapse of that period does the possession become unlawful.”[66]
In case several demands to vacate are made, the period is          reckoned from the date of the last demand.[67] In Leonin v. Court of                  Appeals,[68] the Court, speaking through Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, reckoned the one-year period to file the unlawful detainer Complaint – filed on 25 February 1997 – from the latest demand letter dated 24 October 1996, and not from the earlier demand letter dated 03 July 1995:
Prospero Leonin (Prospero) and five others were co-owners of a 400-square meter property located at K-J Street, East Kamias, Quezon City whereon was constructed a two-storey house and a three-door apartment identified as No. 1-A, B, and C.  

Prospero and his co-owners allowed his siblings, herein petitioners, to occupy Apartment C without paying any rentals.

x x x                            x x x                            x x x

Petitioners further contend that respondent’s remedy is accion publiciana because their possession is not de facto, they having been authorized by the true and lawful owners of the property; and that one year had elapsed from respondent’s demand given on “July 3, 1995” when the unlawful detainer complaint was filed.

The petition fails.

Contrary to petitioners’ contention, the allegations in the complaint make out a case for unlawful detainer. Thus, respondent alleged, inter alia, that she is the registered owner of the property and that petitioners, who are tenants by tolerance, refused to vacate the premises despite the notice to vacate sent to them.  

Likewise, contrary to petitioners’ contention, the one-year period for filing a complaint for unlawful detainer is reckoned from the date of the last demand, in this case October 24, 1996, the reason being that the lessor has the right to waive his right of action based on previous demands and let the lessee remain meanwhile in the premises. Thus, the filing of the complaint on February 25, 1997 was well within the one year reglementary period.[69] (Emphasis supplied.)
From the time that the main lease contract and sublease agreements expired (01 January 2003), respondent Sunvar no longer had any possessory right over the subject property. Absent any express contractual renewal of the sublease agreement or any separate lease contract, it illegally occupied the land or, at best, was allowed to do so by mere tolerance of the registered owners – petitioners herein. Thus, respondent Sunvar’s possession became unlawful upon service of the final notice on 03 February 2009. Hence, as an unlawful occupant of the land of petitioners, and without any contract between them, respondent is “necessarily bound by an implied promise” that it “will vacate upon demand, failing which a summary action for ejectment is the proper remedy against them.”[70] Upon service of the final notice of demand, respondent Sunvar should have vacated the property and, consequently, petitioners had one year or until 02 February 2010 in which to resort to the summary action for unlawful detainer. In the instant case, their Complaint was filed with the MeTC on 23 July 2009, which was well within the one-year period.
The Court is aware that petitioners had earlier served a Notice to Vacate on 22 February 2008, which could have possibly tolled the one-year period for filing an unlawful detainer suit. Nevertheless, they can be deemed to have waived their right of action against respondent Sunvar and continued to tolerate its occupation of the subject property. That they sent a final Notice to Vacate almost a year later gave respondent another opportunity to comply with their implied promise as occupants by mere tolerance. Consequently, the one-year period for filing a summary action for unlawful detainer with the MeTC must be reckoned from the latest demand to vacate.
In the past, the Court ruled that subsequent demands that are merely in the nature of reminders of the original demand do not operate to renew the one-year period within which to commence an ejectment suit, considering that the period will still be reckoned from the date of the original demand.[71] If the subsequent demands were merely in the nature of reminders of the original demand, the one-year period to commence an ejectment suit would be counted from the first demand.[72] However, respondent failed to raise in any of the proceedings below this question of fact as to the nature of the second demand issued by the OSG. It is now too late in the proceedings for them to argue that the 2009 Notice to Vacate was a mere reiteration or reminder of the 2008 Notice to Vacate. In any event, this factual determination is beyond the scope of the present Rule 45 Petition, which is limited to resolving questions of law.
The Court notes that respondent Sunvar has continued to occupy the subject property since the expiration of its sublease on 31 December 2002. The factual issue of whether respondent has paid rentals to petitioners from the expiration of the sublease to the present was never raised or sufficiently argued before this Court. Nevertheless, it has not escaped the Court’s attention that almost a decade has passed without any resolution of this controversy regarding respondent’s possession of the subject property, contrary to the aim of expeditious proceedings under the Revised Rules on Summary Procedure. With the grant of the instant Petition and the remand of the case to the MeTC for continued hearing, the Court emphasizes the duty of the lower court to speedily resolve this matter once and for all, especially since this case involves a prime property of the government located in the country’s business district and the various opportunities for petitioners to gain public revenues from the property.
x xx."