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539 Phil. 10


[ G.R. NO. 148014, December 05, 2006 ]




In this Petition for Review on Certiorari[1] under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, petitioners assail the Decision[2] dated 30 April 2001 of the Court of Appeals, Eighth Division, in CA-G.R. CV No. 38286 which affirmed in toto the Decision[3] dated 27 July 1991 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Marinduque, Branch 38, in Civil Case No. 84-2.

The antecedent facts involve two separate cases principally involving the sameparcels of land and the same parties or their predecessors-in-interest. The first case, terminated way back in 1977, involved an action for recovery of possession of real property where it was eventually ruled that respondent Conchita R. Rodriguez (Conchita) is the owner of a parcel of land located in Bangwain, Torrijos, Marinduque, one of the subject properties of this petition. The second case, now before us for review, concerns a subsequent trial court decision, rendered in 1991, and enjoining petitioners from appropriating the fruits thereof, otherwise exercising acts of ownership over the land previously awarded to Conchita and another property owned in common by respondents and which was usurped by petitioners.[4] Said decision likewise nullified a purported sale of the subject parcels of land in favor of petitioners. It is the incidents surrounding this sale, arising as it did from a levy and auction by the Provincial Assessor of Marinduque for non-payment of real property taxes, that provide this petition with some academic interest.

The details follow.

The first case stemmed from a Complaint[5] filed on 31 August 1962 before the then Court of First Instance (CFI) of Boac, Marinduque by Manuel Vizarra (Manuel) against Conchita. The complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 1245, was for recovery of possession of real property. Manuel narrated in his complaint that he was the owner of an unregistered parcel of land located at Barrio Bangwain, Torrijos, Marinduque. At the time of the institution of the complaint, the subject lot had not yet been surveyed but the alleged boundaries were embodied in Tax Declaration No. 5206 in his name. [6]

Manuel further asserted that in 1937, he and Conchita's late husband, Atty. Clemente Rodriguez (Atty. Rodriguez), allegedly entered into a bilateral written agreement allowing the latter to enter the land for purposes of locating mineral deposits therein. Subsequently, but prior to the Japanese occupation period, Atty. Rodriguez had started to raise cattle on the western portion of the land instead, and had even constructed a fence on the southern side of Manuel's land. Atty. Rodriguez died during the Japanese occupation, but his widow illicitly retained possession of the land and appropriated the fruits of the fruit-bearing trees.[7]

Answering the complaint, Conchita asserted ownership over the 57,000 square meter (sq. m.) property, which was then covered by Tax Declaration No. 4570[8] in the name of her deceased father, Vicente Rosales. She added that on 12 April 1950, Manuel had ceased to be the lawful owner of most of the land described in Tax Declaration No. 5206[9] when he voluntarily subdivided the land described under Tax Declaration No. 5206 between him and his seven (7) children,[10] who were then in possession of their respective shares of the land.[11]

The dispute was referred by the CFI to court-appointed commissioners who then submitted a report ascertaining, among others, that the boundaries of the land were:
On the northern part of the land is the property of Manuel Vizarra, on the West-brook; East Brook and on the South is Bangwain river.[12]
That particular conclusion proved material to the disposition of the first complaint. For on 19 November 1963, Manuel caused the consolidation of the eight (8) tax declarations of the Vizarras into a single Tax Declaration No. 8494 in his name. Notably, the boundaries as stated in the new tax declaration were different from those ascertained by the commissioners.[13]

On 16 November 1977, the CFI of Marinduque ruled in favor of Conchita, finding that the latter was indeed the true owner of the disputed land. The CFI noted the disparity of the boundaries of the tax declarations Manuel initially presented in court and, how by "sleigh-of-the-hand improvisation," the location of the land, as indicated in the 1963 tax declaration, was changed in order to encompass Conchita's property.[14]

After the decision of the CFI became final and executory, a writ of execution,[15] and, subsequently, an alias writ of execution[16] were issued ordering petitioners to refrain from entering the disputed property. In the interim, Manuel died and was substituted by his heirs, including the present petitioners.

Then in 1984, Conchita, joined by her daughter Evelyn, filed an action for injunction and damages with a prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction before the RTC of Boac, Marinduque, Branch 38. The second case, docketed as Civil Case No. 84-2, saw respondents asserting absolute ownership over two (2) parcels of land,[17] one of which was the subject property in the first case, located at Bangwain, Torrijos, Marinduque. Even as Conchita's ownership was acknowledged by the CFI in the 1977 decision over one of the parcels of land, it was alleged that petitioners, along with twenty other persons, repeatedly entered the subject properties, harvested coconuts to be processed into copra and appropriated the fruits to themselves.[18]

Petitioners, on the other hand, narrated that the subject properties were actually purchased by petitioner spouses Antonio and Brenda Vizarra from the provincial government of Marinduque in a public auction sale conducted on 24 April 1979, which became final one year after. They presented in court the Final Bill of Sale executed on 14 May 1980, evidencing their claim over the subject properties.[19] It appeared that the auction sale was conducted at the instance of the Provincial Assessor of Marinduque, for real estate tax delinquency. Interestingly, the auction sale resulted from the failure of Manuel to pay the real property taxes, even though the CFI had ruled that it was Conchita Rodriguez who had actually owned one of the subject properties.[20]

On 27 July 1991, the RTC rendered its assailed decision, finding that the parcels of land in dispute were owned by respondent Conchita. In doing so, it established the following scenario:

(a) In 1963, Manuel subdivided the property described in Tax Declaration No. 5206 into eight (8) unequal parts, between himself and his children. Afterwards, but prior to the rendition of the CFI decision in 1977, Manuel consolidated anew the subdivided properties into one tax declaration (Tax Declaration No. 8494).The boundaries as stated in this new tax declaration, however. had been altered to encompass the properties of Conchita, Parcel No. I, subject of Civil Case No. 1245, and Parcel No. II. [21]

(b) Tax Declaration No. 8494 was later replaced by Tax Declaration No. 195 and subsequently, Tax Declaration No. 176, all in Manuel's name, and again improperly encompassing Conchita's properties. Manuel did not pay for the taxes on the properties subject of the tax declarations, prompting the provincial government of Marinduque to send notices of auction sale to sell the lot under Tax Declaration No. 176. The properties were then purchased at the auction sale by petitioners Antonio and Brenda Vizarra (Brenda), Antonio being a grandson of Manuel.[22]

(c) However, the properties covered by Tax Declaration No. 176 and subsequently sold on auction by the provincial government include the same property which the CFI had determined in 1977 as that of Conchita Rodriguez. Moreover, the same property and the other property also subject of this case were declared in the name of Conchita's daughter, Evelyn, in Tax Declaration No. 10178 and Tax Declaration No. 9792.[23] The RTC considered the foregoing as an indicium of the bad faith attending the acts of Manuel and petitioners in seeking to obtain ownership over the subject properties.

Petitioners appealed the RTC Decision to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the conclusions and affirmed in toto the judgment of the RTC. Hence, this petition.

Petitioners come before the Court questioning essentially the findings of facts of both RTC and CA on the ownership of the subject parcels of land. Petitioners maintain that the land they entered were not the properties of Conchita and aver that they had bought the same in good faith.

Brenda likewise admits having received two (2) notices of delinquency sale of different dates–the first one addressed to her husband Antonio Vizarra (Antonio) and Concepcion Rodriguez (referring to respondent Conchita), in the alternative; and the second notice addressed to her uncle, Antero Vizarra (Antero) and Concepcion Rodriguez, in the alternative. However, she states that the respondents did not forward the notices to Conchita Rodriguez in the belief that the latter was furnished copies of the same by the provincial assessor's office. It is further claimed that petitioners had consulted Atty. Eduardo Mirafuente (Atty. Mirafuente), the CFI clerk of court, regarding the propriety of bidding therein. Atty. Mirafuente had said that the property to be auctioned off covered the same land litigated in Civil Case No. 1245, but he nonetheless gave them the go-signal to participate in the bidding.[24]

As a rule, questions of facts are not to be entertained in this jurisdiction. Both the RTC and the Court of Appeals are in agreement as to the particulars of the case. In such a circumstance, the rule is that their findings on the facts will not be disturbed.[25] The Court is not a trier of facts and does not normally undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties during the trial of the case considering that the findings of facts of the Court of Appeals are conclusive and binding on the Court.[26]

The fundamental issue of this case concerns the identity of the land in dispute. Petitioners would have us believe that the land they had bought at the auction sale did not cover the same land that the CFI of Marinduque adjudicated to respondent Conchita way back in 1977.

The Court is not persuaded.

The evidence on record reveals that the questioned auction sale included the land adjudicated to respondent Conchita by the CFI of Marinduque in Civil Case 1245.

Notably, before the CFI, Manuel, petitioners' predecessor-in-interest, presented two apparently different and conflicting tax declaration certificates i.e., Tax Declaration Nos. 5206 and 8494 bearing totally different boundaries. The CFI of Marinduque had observed in its ruling that this was part of Manuel's scheme to acquire the ownership of a parcel of land which did not belong to him. The CFI decision, not having been contested by Manuel or his heirs, has long become final and executory and is thus binding and conclusive on the petitioners with regard to the ownership of Parcel No. I.[27]

Petitioners attempted once more to take the same property when they were furnished a copy of the notice of delinquency sale by the provincial assessor's office of the land in question and Parcel No. II both covered by Tax Declaration No. 176. In evident bad faith Brenda admitted in open court that Antero did not want to pay the delinquency tax as the land included therein, denominated as Parcel No. I, had already been adjudicated to Conchita. Petitioners Antonio and Brenda had known that they bid for the land owned by Conchita and that it was undeniably the land subject of Civil Case No. 1245 which was adjudicated to Conchita. Brenda herself testified as follows:
Q: And your uncle Antero Vizarra also told you that he is not interested in paying the back taxes because that portion of the land of Manuel Vizarra was lost to Conchita Rodriguez or Concepcion Rodriguez in Civil Case No. 1245 and that Mrs.Rodriguez is in possession of the land publicly and that she should pay the taxes, do you remember having told Antero in that manner?

A: My uncle told me that they would not pay the taxes because they lost the case to Mrs. Rodriguez, sir. And the possession of the property was in the hands of Mrs. Rodriguez.

Q: And because of those inquiry of Atty. Mirafuente, it was clear to your mind that the subject matter of the auction sale is that property which was lost to Conchita Rodriguez in Civil Case No. 1245, is it not?
A: Yes, sir.[28]
Moreover, by Brenda's own admission, the addressees of the first letter sent by the provincial assessor's office were her husband, Antonio Vizarra and Concepcion Rodriguez, in the alternative. The second notice of delinquency was also telling. It was addressed this time to Antero Vizarra and in the alternative, Concepcion Rodriguez. Thus, by the act of sending the notices of delinquency sale to the two parties, the provincial assessor of Marinduque recognized that there was a single parcel of land claimed by two persons. The only explanation why the provincial assessor sent the notice to the two addressees was he was unsure as to who between the two addressees was the owner of the land.[29]

Parenthetically, when the provincial assessor failed to serve a separate notice to Conchita – the true and lawful owner – that her land was to be auctioned off due to non-payment of real estate taxes, he violated Section 73[30] of Presidential Decree No. 464, otherwise known as the Real Property Tax Code, which provides that a copy of the notice shall forthwith be sent by registered mail, or by messenger or through the barrio captain to the delinquent taxpayer, at his address shown on the tax record cards or at his residence. The auction sale, therefore, was null and void for non-compliance with the provisions of the Real Property Tax Code on mandatory notice.[31]

In any event, the auctioneer in an auction sale does not warrant that the buyer shall,from the time of the sale, have and enjoy the legal and peaceful possession of the property sold.[32]

We agree with the findings of the Court of Appeals that there was indeed bad faithimputable to the petitioners. In ruling so, the Court of Appeals said:
The general picture of this case readily shows the bad faith of the defendant-appellees' right from the very start when Manuel Vizarra unscrupulouslysub-divided and re-consolidated ownership of the property through various tax declarations together with the unexplained non-payment of real estate tax due thereon. Along with this, there is the RTC's finding that the defendants-appellants did not give the notice of the delinquency sale to the plaintiffs-appellees despite their knowledge that the property of the plaintiffs-appellees were about to be auctioned off. Finally, the fact that during the public auction sale, there was only one bidder, which by no coincidence happened to be Antonio Vizarra, there could be no clearer showing of defendants-appellants bad faith in purchasing the said property.[33]
Good faith, or the lack of it, is, in the last analysis, a question of intention. But in ascertaining the intention by which one is actuated on a given occasion, courts are necessarily controlled by the evidence as to the conduct and outward acts by which the inward may, with safety, be determined. So it is that "the honesty of intention," "the honest lawful intent," which constitutes good faith implies a "freedom from knowledge and circumstances which ought to put a person on inquiry."[34]

In this case, there was clearly bad faith in the purported acquisition of petitioner spouses Antonio and Brenda Vizarra of the subject properties. Petitioners went to great lengths in a bid to mislead this Court and the lower courts that the parcels of land they now have title to were not the properties of Conchita. But they slipped in one instance as they admitted that the properties they purchased at the auction sale included the same land that their grandfather lost to Conchita in Civil Case No. 1245.

We disagree, however, with the pronouncement of the RTC and the Court of Appeals that petitioners had the obligation to convey the notice of delinquency to respondents. Rather, the responsibility lies with the provincial assessor's office to furnish copies of the notices to the parties concerned. Thus, the provincial assessor should have given a copy of the two (2) notices of delinquency sale to Conchita. Absent any ample evidence that the provincial assessor did so and that he observed the requisites set out in Section 73[35] of Presidential Decree No. 464, the auction sale of the disputed parcels of land is truly null and void for non-observance of the statutory requirement of the Real Property Tax Code.

The foregoing notwithstanding, the Court finds that the award of the RTC and the Court of Appeals for actual and compensatory damages improper.

Respondent Conchita stated in open court that petitioners entered the subject property everytime the harvest of coconuts are due. She further claimed that in 1979, the year before petitioners entered the land and appropriated to themselves the fruits thereof, the harvest of the land was not less than 2,000 kilos. She also testified on the amount of money that could be yielded from the harvest from 1980 to 1986.[36]

The claims, however, are markedly self-serving, with nary a document to support them.

The rule is that evidence should be taken of the damages claimed and the court should determine who are entitled to such indemnity. The power of courts to grant damages and attorney's fees demands factual, legal and equitable justifications, its basis cannot be left to speculation or conjecture.[37]

However, there is no question that respondents suffered pecuniary loss due to the acts of petitioners and thus, respondents are entitled to damages. As borne out by the records of the case, petitioners have continuously entered the land and appropriated the fruits to themselves to the prejudice of the rightful owner from 20 May 1980 to the present.[38] Hence, it is but equitable that respondents be remunerated for their loss of the earnings due to the acts of petitioners. Since there is no sufficient evidence to prove actual and compensatory damages, the Court hereby awards temperate damages instead, which are more than nominal but less than compensatory damages, considering that respondent had indeed suffered some pecuniary loss but the amount cannot be proved with certainty.[39] The amount of P90,000.00 is sufficient and reasonable under the circumstances. In consonance therewith, the award of nominal damages is hereby deleted.

The Court also cancels the award for moral damages as there was no indication that respondents had suffered emotional hurt and injury.

Finding bad faith and fraudulent acts on the part of petitioners, the Court hereby imposes an increased amount of P50,000.00 as exemplary damages.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Decision dated 30 April 2001 of the Court of Appeals, Eighth Division, in CA-G.R. CV No. 38286 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as follows:
  1. The award of nominal and moral damages is hereby DELETED;

  2. Petitioners are ordered to jointly and severally pay respondents P90,000.00 as temperate damages, in lieu of the award of actual and compensatory damages
  3. which is hereby DELETED;

  4. Petitioners are likewise ordered to jointly and severally pay respondents P50,000.00 as exemplary damages.
Costs against petitioners.


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

[1] Rollo, pp. 20-38; Dated 22 June 2001.

[2] Id. at 9-16. Penned by Associate Justice Bernardo P. Abesamis and concurred in by Associate Justices Godardo A. Jacinto and Eliezer R. Delos Santos.

[3] Rollo, pp. 41-60; Penned by Executive Judge Romulo A. Lopez.

[4] Rollo, pp. 59-60. The dispositive portion reads in full:

WHEREFORE, viewed fromthe [sic] above observations and findings, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants:
  1. [D] eclaring [sic] the plaintiffs to be the rightful owners and possessors of the land in question (Lot 6580, Cad. 612-D, Torrijos Cadastre; Exh. U-2 and U-4);

  2. Declaring the sale of the above mentioned property by the Provincial Assessor to be null and void and that the Certificate of Sale Exh. Z and 20 have no force and effect against the plaintiffs;

  3. Enjoining and prohibiting perpetually the defendants and all persons claiming under them to refrain, stop and desist from committing any and/or all of the acts complained of (including harvesting and gathering of the fruits of the plants and improvements therein);

  4. Ordering the defendants to jointly and severally pay the plaintiffs the sum of P100,000.00 representing actual and compensatory damages for all the value of the coconuts harvested and gathered with interest until fully paid;

  5. To jointly and severally pay the plaintiffs the sum of P10,000.00 as and for exemplary damages;

  6. To jointly and severally pay the plaintiffs the sum of P15,000.00 as nominal damages and the further sum of P15,000.00 as moral damages;

  7. To jointly and severally pay the plaintiffs the sum of P20,000.00 as and for attorney's fees and P5,000.00 for transportation and board and lodging expenses during the pendency of the trial;

  8. To jointly and severally pay the cost of suit; and

  9. Dismissing defendants' counterclaim for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED. (Rollo, pp. 59-60).

[5] CFI Records of Civil Case No. 1245, pp. 1-3.

[6] The land is more particularly described as follows:

A parcel of land located at barrio Bangwain, Torrijos, Marinduque previously covered by Tax Declaration No. 5206 in the name of the herein plaintiff (Manuel Vizarra), planted principally with coconut trees, with an assessed value of P2260.00 (1949) and bounded on the: N-Ladislao Vizarra; E-Luis Frias; S-Luis Frias; W-Regino Rolluqui (now Alejandro Frias, Vicente Rosales & Francisco Reforma.

[7] Records (Civil Case No. 1245), pp. 1-2.

[8] The boundaries of Conchita's land are as follows:

North – Luis Grimaldo
East – Manuel Vizarra
South – Anastacio Rioflorido
West - Banguayin River

[9] Except a portion thereof which was then covered by Tax Declaration No. 6579; CFI Records of Civil Case No. 1245, p. 27.

Records (Civil Case No. 1245), p. 6. Tax Declaration No. 5206 was cancelled and thereafter, eight (8) new tax declarations were issued under the following names:

Tax Declaration No. 6574 under the name of Antero Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6575 under the name of Emilia Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6576 under the name of Felicidad Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6577 under the name of Jovita Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6579 under the name of Manuel Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6582 under the name of Pedro Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6583 under the name of Rafael Vizarra
Tax Declaration No. 6587 under the name of Marciana Vizarra

[11] Id. at 207.

[12] Id. at 40.

[13] Id. at 218; North – Ladislao Vizarra, East – brook, West – River, South – Banwain River.

[14] Id. at 218-219.

[15] Id. at 235.

[16] Id. at 248.

[17] Records (Civil Case No. 84-2), p. 1. The parcels of land were claimed to be the lots of respondents. They are described as follows:
  1. Parcel No. I is the same parcel of land subject matter of Civil Case No. 1245 of this Court entitled MANUEL VIZARRA versus CONCHITA RORDIQUEZ, decided in favor of the plaintiffs, the decision in said case has long been final; [and]

  2. Parcel No. II is a coconut land adjoing [sic] Parcel No. I to [the] Northwest segregated in the middles [sic] by a Brook containing an area of 7.1400 hectares[,] more or less, now covered by Tax Declaration No. 10178, series of 1982.
[18] Records (Civil Case No. 84-2), pp. 2-3.

[19] Rollo, p. 44.

[20] Id. at 134.

[21] Rollo, p. 139; See footnote 17.

[22] TSN, 2 May 1989, p. 10.

[23] Records (Civil Case No. 84-2). Exhibits "B" and "C" of Civil Case No. 84-2.; Evelyn is named Evelina in the cited tax declarations.

TSN, 3 May 1989, pp. 18-20.

[25] Veneracion v. People, G.R. No. 137447, 31 January 2005, 450 SCRA 216, 223.

[26] Rivera v. Roman, G.R. No. 142402, 20 September 2005, 470 SCRA 276, 287.

[27] Lapulapu Development & Housing Corp. v. Group Management Corporation, G.R. No. 141407, 9 September 2002, 437 Phil. 297, 313 (2002); Jose Clavano, Inc. v. Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, 428 Phil. 208, 232-233 (2002).

[28] TSN, 13 June 1989, pp. 4-5.

[29] TSN, 8 September 1987, p. 10.

[30] The pertinent provision of the section states:

SEC. 73. Advertisement of sale of real property at public auction.–x x x x
x x x x Copy of the notice shall forthwith be sent either by registered mail or by messenger, or through the barrio captain, to the delinquent taxpayer, at his address as shown in the tax rolls or property tax record cards of the municipality or city where the property is located, or at his residence, if known to said treasurer or barrio captain: Provided, however, That a return of the proof of service under oath shall be filed by the person making the service with the provincial or city treasurer concerned.
[31] Tan v. Bantegui, G.R. No. 154027, 24 October 2005, 473 SCRA 663, 673-674.

[32] CIVIL CODE, Art. 1547 which reads:

Art. 1547. In a contract of sale, unless a contrary intention appears, there is:

(1) An implied warranty on the part of the seller that he has a right to sell the thing at the time when the ownership is to pass, and that the buyer shall from that time have and enjoy the legal and peaceful possession of the thing;

(2) An implied warranty that the thing shall be free from any hidden faults or defects, or any charge or encumbrance not declared or known to the buyer.

This article shall not, however, be held to render liable a sheriff, auctioneer, mortgagee, pledge, or other person professing to sell by virtue of authority in fact or law, for the sale of a thing in which a third person has a legal or equitable interest. (n).

[33] Rollo, p. 15.

[34] Ulep v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125254, 11 October 2005, 472 SCRA 241, 254.

[35] Supra note 30.

TSN, 22 July 1986, pp. 11-17.

[37] Ariaga v. Sulpico, G.R. No. 144320, 26 April 2006, 488 SCRA 332, 349-350.

[38] Rollo, p. 90. Respondents averred in their Comment and/or Objection to the Petition dated 12 Septmeber 2001 that "at this point in time, the petitioners have continuously maintained and sustained their domination, occupation and enjoyment of the property through force and intimidation despite the Order and Decision of the RTC Court [sic] ."

Public Estates Authority v. Chu, G.R. No. 145291, 21 September 2005, 470 SCRA 495, 506.

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