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581 Phil. 337


[ G.R. No. 150025, July 23, 2008 ]




Before us is the Petition for Review by Certiorari filed by the spouses Narciso and Julita Barnachea[1] (petitioners) against the spouses Avelino and Priscilla Ignacio (respondents), rooted in the ejectment complaint the respondents filed against the petitioners before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Pulilan, Bulacan. The petition prays that we nullify the Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals ( CA) and its Resolution [3] denying the motion for reconsideration, and that we suspend the ejectment proceedings in light of a pending action for quieting of title involving the disputed property.


The respondents filed their complaint for ejectment against the petitioners before the MTC on October 20, 1998. The subject matter of the complaint were lots titled in respondent Avelino Ignacio's name (Subdivision Lot 16 covered by TCT No. 86821, and Subdivision Lot 17 covered by TCT No. 86822), which lots are adjacent to the property that the petitioners own and occupy. These properties were originally part of a piece of land owned by a certain Luis Santos and subsequently inherited by his daughter Purificacion Santos Imperial. The land was subdivided and transferred to tenant-farmers Santiago Isidro (EP No. A-050545 with TCT No. T-188-EP) and Procopio de Guzman (EP No. 445440 with TCT No. T-185-EP). The property that the petitioners own and occupy was derived from the land transferred to Santiago Isidro. Respondent Ignacio's properties were derived, on the other hand, from the land originally transferred to Procopio de Guzman.

The complaint was dismissed on December 8, 1999, but was revived on April 5, 2000. The petitioners received summons on April 13, 2000 and, instead of filing a new Answer, filed on April 18, 2000 a Motion for Extension of Time to File Answer which the MTC denied on May 5, 2000. The petitioners responded to this denial by filing a motion for reconsideration on May 23, 2000. Meanwhile, the respondents filed a Motion for the Issuance of a Writ of Execution dated May 24, 2000, which the petitioners received on May 26, 2000.

To avert the implementation of the writ of execution, the petitioners filed a Notice of Appeal. The MTC issued a subpoena dated June 5, 2000 setting the hearing on the petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration and the respondents' Motion for Issuance of Writ of Execution on June 19, 2000. The petitioners subsequently filed a Compliance that prayed, among others, that the pending resolution on the incident and the Notice of Appeal be deemed to have been filed ex abundanti cautela. The respondents, for their part, filed a Manifestation and Motion praying, among others, that the petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration of the May 5, 2000 Order be denied for being moot and academic.

On July 21, 2000, the MTC issued an order declaring the petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration abandoned because of the Notice of Appeal they previously filed. Thereafter, the MTC forwarded the entire record of Civil Case No. 818 to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20 (RTC Branch 20), Malolos, Bulacan. On August 24, 2000, petitioners submitted their Appeal Memorandum to the RTC Branch 20 which affirmed the MTC decision on September 20, 2000.

On October 5, 2000, the petitioner Julita's sister, Leticia, representing herself to be the sole owner of EP No. A-050545 (TCT No. T-188-EP), filed a Petition for Quieting of Title with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 19 (RTC Branch 19), Malolos, Bulacan, docketed as Civil Case No. 694-M-2000. On October 9, 2000, prior to their receipt of the RTC Branch 20's September 20, 2000 decision, the petitioners filed an Urgent Motion for the Suspension of Proceedings (referred to for purposes of this decision as the urgent motion).

RTC Branch 20 denied on October 17, 2000 the petitioners' urgent motion and their subsequent Motion for Reconsideration. The petitioners brought the denials to the CA via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court on the issue of "whether the pendency of an action involving the issue of ownership is sufficient basis for [the] suspension of an ejectment proceeding between the same parties and relating to the same subject matter".


The CA denied the petition and the petitioners' subsequent motion for reconsideration, essentially on the grounds that (1) the issue in an ejectment suit is limited to the physical possession of real property and is separate and distinct from the issue of ownership and possession de jure that either party may set forth in his or her pleading; (2) the pendency of an action for reconveyance of title over the same property or for annulment of deed of sale does not divest the MTC of its jurisdiction to try the forcible entry or unlawful detainer case before it, and that ejectment actions generally cannot be suspended pending the resolution of a case for quieting of title between the same parties over the same subject property; and (3) the case does not fall under the exception provided by the case of Amagan v. Marayag[4], where the Court allowed the suspension of ejectment proceedings because of strong reasons of equity applicable to the case - the demolition of the petitioner's house unless the proceedings would be suspended. The CA ruled that the petitioners' reliance on Amagan was inappropriate because the said case only applies to unlawful detainer actions while the petitioners' ejectment suit is an action for forcible entry. To the CA, the initial tolerance on the part of the private respondents did not convert the nature of their ejectment suit from forcible entry into unlawful detainer, following the reasoning this Court applied in Munoz v. Court of Appeals.[5]


The petitioners impute the following error to the CA:
[T]he Honorable Court of Appeals erred when it ruled that the said ejectment proceeding was not a suit for illegal detainer but one of forcible entry, thus, denied application to the exceptional rule on suspension of ejectment proceedings, at any stage thereof, until the action on ownership is finally settled.[6]
From this general assignment of error, the petitioners submitted in their memorandum the following specific issues for our resolution:

1) whether or not the ejectment case filed by the respondents against petitioners with the MTC of Pulilan is for unlawful detainer or for forcible entry;

2) whether the MTC of Pulilan had validly acquired and exercised jurisdiction over the ejectment case considering that the complaint was filed beyond one year from the demand to vacate the subject premises; and

3) whether or not the ejectment proceedings should be suspended at any stage until the action on ownership of the disputed portion of the subject property is finally settled.


We find the petition without merit.
  1. Nature of the Action before the MTC.
The best indicator of what the plaintiff in an ejectment case intends with respect to the nature of his or her complaint can be found in the complaint itself. In this case, the complaint states:[7]
"That plaintiffs are the registered owners in fee simple of several residential lots identified as lots 16 and 17 covered by Certificate of Title Nos. 86821 and 86822 issued in the name of the spouses by the Register of Deeds of Bulacan, with a total aggregate area of 254 square meters situated at Cutcut, Pulilan, Bulacan. Copy of the said titles are hereto attached and marked as Annex "A" and "A-1"

"That in a portion of the lots 16 and 17, a portion of the house of the defendants was erected and built thus usurping the said portion and this was made known to the defendants when the plaintiffs caused the relocation of the subject lots, however, considering that the latter were not yet in need of that portion, they allowed the former to stay on the portion by tolerance;

"That last July 1998, when the plaintiffs were in the process of fencing the boundary of their lots, to their surprise, they were not allowed by the defendants to extend the fence up to the portions they illegally occupied;

"That despite the advice given to them by several Geodetic Engineers commissioned by both the plaintiffs and the herein defendants, for them to give way and allow the plaintiffs to fence their lot, same proved futile as they stubbornly refused to surrender possession of the subject portion;
The actions for forcible entry and unlawful detainer are similar because they are both summary actions where the issue is purely physical possession.[8] Other than these commonalities, however, they possess dissimilarities that are clear, distinct, and well established in law.[9]

In forcible entry, (1) the plaintiff must prove that he was in prior physical possession of the property until he was deprived of possession by the defendant; (2) the defendant secures possession of the disputed property from the plaintiff by means of force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth; hence, his possession is unlawful from the beginning; (3) the law does not require a previous demand by the plaintiff for the defendant to vacate the premises; and (4) the action can be brought only within one-year from the date the defendant actually and illegally entered the property.[10]

In marked contrast, unlawful detainer is attended by the following features: (1) prior possession of the property by the plaintiff is not necessary; (2) possession of the property by the defendant at the start is legal but the possession becomes illegal by reason of the termination of his right to possession based on his or her contract or other arrangement with the plaintiff; (3) the plaintiff is required by law to make a demand as a jurisdictional requirement; and (4) the one-year period to bring the complaint is counted from the date of the plaintiff's last demand on the defendant.[11]

Under these standards, we do not hesitate to declare the Court of Appeals in error when it held that the present case involves forcible entry rather than unlawful detainer. A plain reading of the complaint shows the respondents' positions that the petitioners were in prior possession of the disputed property; that the respondents allowed them to occupy the disputed property by tolerance; that the respondents eventually made a demand that the petitioners vacate the property (on August 26, 1998, which demand the petitioners received on August 31, 1998); and that the petitioners refused to vacate the property in light of the defenses they presented. Separately from the complaint, the respondents characterized the action they filed against the petitioners in the MTC as an unlawful detainer when they stated in their memorandum that "as alleged in the complaint, what was filed by the respondents [was] an ejectment suit for unlawful detainer."[12]

A critical point for us in arriving at our conclusion is the complete absence of any allegation of force, intimidation, strategy or stealth in the complaint with respect to the petitioners' possession of the respondents' property. While admittedly no express contract existed between the parties regarding the petitioners' possession, the absence does not signify an illegality in the entry nor an entry by force, intimidation, strategy or stealth that would characterize the entry as forcible. It has been held that a person who occupies land of another at the latter's tolerance or permission, without any contract between them, is necessarily bound by an implied promise that he will vacate upon demand, failing which a summary action for ejectment is the proper remedy. The status of the defendant is analogous to that of a lessee or tenant whose terms has expired but whose occupancy continues by tolerance of the owner.[13]

To be sure, we are aware of the Munoz v. Court of Appeals [14] ruling that the CA relied upon to reach the conclusion that the present case involves forcible entry, not unlawful detainer. What the CA apparently misread in Munoz was the allegation of stealth in the complaint; anchored on this finding, the Court concluded that the defendant's possession was illegal from the beginning so that there could be no possession by tolerance. The allegation of stealth, of course, is not present in the present case. On the contrary, tolerance was alleged in the ejectment complaint itself. Thus, there is no reason for the Munoz ruling to apply to the present case; there is no basis nor occasion to conclude that the respondents filed a forcible entry case.
  1. The Jurisdictional Issue -
    Was the Ejectment Complaint
    Seasonably Filed?
We point out at the outset that what the petitioners directly appealed to this Court is the appellate court's affirmation of the RTC's refusal to suspend the ejectment proceedings based on the quieting of title case the petitioners cited. Hence, we are not reviewing the merits of the main ejectment case, particularly the question of the MTC's jurisdiction, as these aspects of the case were not appealed to us. If we touch the jurisdictional aspect of the case at all, it is only for purposes of fully responding to the parties' arguments.

The petitioners' jurisdictional argument cannot succeed as the respondents' ejectment complaint was filed within the one-year period for bringing an action for unlawful detainer or forcible entry that Section 1, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court requires. Section 1 specifically states:
Section 1. Who may institute proceedings, and when.

Subject to the provisions of the next succeeding section, a person deprived of the possession of any land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, or a lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person against whom the possession of any land or building is unlawfully withheld after the expiration or termination of the right to hold possession, by virtue of any contract, express or implied, or the legal representatives or assigns of any such lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person, may, at any time within one (1) year after such unlawful deprivation or withholding of possession, bring an action in the proper Municipal Trial Court against the person or persons unlawfully withholding or depriving of possession, or any person or persons claiming under them, for the restitution of such possession, together with damages and costs.
On the basis of this provision, the petitioners argue that the respondents' cause of action - whether for forcible entry or for unlawful detainer - had prescribed when the ejectment complaint was filed on April 5, 2000. They point out that the last demand letter (the reckoning date for unlawful detainer[15]) was dated Aug. 26, 1998 and was received by the petitioners on August 31, 1998; the complaint was only filed on April 5, 2000 or more than 1 year after August 31, 1998. On the other hand, if the action had been for forcible entry, the prescriptive period commenced on the discovery of the usurpation and the computation period would have commenced either during the relocation survey of the lots or in July 1998 when the respondents were prevented from fencing the disputed property.

The one-year period within which to commence an ejectment proceeding is a prescriptive period as well as a jurisdictional requirement. Hence, Article 1155 of the Civil Code on the manner of reckoning the prescriptive period must necessarily come into play. Under this Article, the filing of a complaint in court interrupts the running of prescription of actions. As an action for unlawful detainer, the one-year prescription period started running after August 31, 1998 - the date of receipt of the respondents' demand letter. The period ran for almost two months until it was interrupted on October 20, 1998 when the respondents filed their ejectment complaint. This complaint, however, was dismissed on December 8, 1999. Upon this dismissal, the prescriptive period again began to run for about four months when another interruption intervened - the revival of the complaint on April 5, 2000. Evidently, under these undisputed facts, the period when the prescriptive period effectively ran does not add up to the one-year prescriptive period that would jurisdictionally bar the ejectment case.
  1. Suspension of the Ejectment
    Proceedings until Resolution
    of the Ownership Issue.
The issue in an unlawful detainer case is limited to physical possession. When a claim of ownership is used as a basis for de facto possession or to assert a better possessory right, the court hearing the case may provisionally rule on the issue of ownership. As a rule, however, a pending civil action involving ownership of the same property does not justify the suspension of the ejectment proceedings. Only in rare cases has this Court allowed a suspension of the ejectment proceedings and one of these is in the case of Amagan v. Marayag[16] that the petitioners cite. To quote from Amagan -
[i]ndisputably, the execution of the MCTC Decision would have resulted in the demolition of the house subject of the ejectment suit; thus, by parity of reasoning, considerations of equity require suspension of the ejectment proceedings. xxx [L]ike Vda. de Legaspi, the respondent's suit is one of unlawful detainer and not of forcible entry, and most certainly, the ejectment of petitioners would mean a demolition of their house, a matter that is likely to create "confusion, disturbance, inconvenience and expenses" mentioned in the said exceptional case.

Necessarily, the affirmance of the MCTC Decision would cause the respondent to go through the whole gamut of enforcing it by physically removing the petitioners from the premises they claim to have been occupying since 1937. (Respondent is claiming ownership only of the land, not of the house) Needlessly, the litigants as well as the courts will be wasting much time and effort by proceeding at a stage wherein the outcome is at best temporary, but the result of enforcement is permanent, unjust and probably irreparable.[17]
However, we do not find these same circumstances present in this case for the reasons we shall discuss in detail below.

First. In Amagan, the party refusing to vacate the disputed premises (or the deforciant in the action for unlawful detainer) was the same party seeking to quiet his title. In the present case, the petitioners are not parties to the civil action (for quieting of title) whose result they seek to await; the plaintiff in the quieting of title case is Leticia, the petitioner Julita's sister. No proof whatsoever was offered to show that petitioner Julita is asserting her own title to the property; there is only the allegation that Leticia was appointed as the representative of Julita and the other heirs of Isidro in their various recourses at law to vindicate their landowners' rights.[18] The respondents in fact actively disputed petitioner Julita's identification with the quieting of title case in their Comment since Leticia claimed to be the sole owner of TCT No. T-188- EP in her action to quiet title. The respondents also pointed to the document entitled "Kasulatan ng Pagmamana ng Lupa sa Labas ng Hukuman na May Pagtalikod sa Bahagi" executed on May 27, 1995, showing that Julita had relinquished her share over TCT No. T-188-EP in favor of her sister Leticia. A desperation argument the petitioners advanced in their Memorandum is that the Kasulatan was only executed "pursuant to the agrarian reform policy proscribing the parceling of the awarded landholding into smaller units to preserve its viability".[19] In other words, the petitioners are disavowing, for purposes of this case, the representation they made in completing their submission before the agrarian reform authorities. We cannot of course recognize this line of argument as justification for the suspension of the ejectment proceedings as the petitioners are bound by their representations before the agrarian reform authorities and cannot simply turn their back on these representations as their convenience requires. No less decisive against the petitioners' argument for suspension is the decision itself of RTC Branch 19 that the respondents attached to their Comment. This decision shows that Civil Case No. 694-M-2000, instead of being a case for quieting of title, is in fact a mere boundary dispute.[20]

Second. In Amagan, the MCTC decision involved the demolition of the petitioners' house - a result that this Court found to be "permanent, unjust and probably irreparable"; in the present case, only a portion of the petitioners' house is apparently affected as the petitioners occupy the lot adjoining the disputed property. Significantly, the height, width and breadth of the portion of the house that would be affected by the execution of the RTC Branch 20 decision does not appear anywhere in the records, thus, unavoidably inviting suspicion that the potential damage to the petitioners is not substantial. More important than the fact of omission is its implication; the omission constitutes a missing link in the chain of equitable reasons for suspension that the petitioners wish to establish. Thus, the equitable consideration that drove us to rule as we did in Amagan does not obtain in the present case.

In the absence of a concrete showing of compelling equitable reasons at least comparable and under circumstances analogous to Amagan, we cannot override the established rule that a pending civil action for ownership shall not ipso facto suspend an ejectment proceeding. Additionally, to allow a suspension on the basis of the reasons the petitioners presented in this case would create the dangerous precedent of allowing an ejectment suit to be suspended by an action filed in another court by parties who are not involved or affected by the ejectment suit.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby DISMISS the petition for lack of merit. Costs against the petitioners.


Quisumbing, (Chairperson), Carpio Morales, Tinga, and Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.

[1] Per the Court's Resolution dated July 30, 2003, the petitioner Julita Barnachea's death on June 14, 2003 was noted and the substitution of her heirs as parties-in-interest was granted; rollo, p. 97.

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Romeo A. Brawner (deceased), with Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Associate Justice Rebecca De Guia-Salvador, concurring; dated May 30, 2001; rollo, pp. 33-40.

[3] Dated September 11, 2001; rollo, pp. 42-43.

[4] G.R. No. 138377, February 28, 2000, 326 SCRA 581.

[5] G.R. No. 102693, September 23, 1992, 214 SCRA 216.

[6] Rollo, p.16.

[7] Id. , pp. 59-60

[8] Go v. Court of Appeals G.R. No. 142276, August 14, 2001, 362 SCRA 755, 766 citing University Physicians Services, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, 233 SCRA 86.

[9] The actions for forcible entry and unlawful detainer are distinct actions defined by Rule 70, Sec. 1 of the Rules of Court cited in the later portion of this Decision.

[10] Dela Cruz v. CA, G.R. No. 139442, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 103, 115.

[11] See Munoz v. Court of Appeals, supra note 5. See also Rivera v. Rivera, 405 SCRA 466 and Panganiban v. Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, 395 SCRA 624.

[12] Rollo, p. 124.

[13] See Vda. De Cachuela v. Francisco, No. L-31985, June 25, 1980, 98 SCRA 172, 174, citing Calubayan v. Pascual, 21 SCRA 146.

[14] Supra note 5.

[15] Development Bank of the Philippines v. Canonoy, G.R. No. L-29422, September 30, 1970, 35 SCRA 197, 201.

[16] Supra note 4.

[17] Id., p. 593.

[18] See rollo, pp. 15-16, 65

[19] Id., p. 131, citing p. 19 of the Petition.

[20] Id., pp.79-82.

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