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517 Phil. 253


[ G.R. NO. 143361, February 09, 2006 ]




Before us is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the July 15, 1999 decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 46065 which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Iriga City, Branch 37, in Civil Case No. 2917.
The property subject of this petition is a two-door, three-story commercial building and the 229 sq.m. parcel of land on which it stands. The property was originally owned by Ruperto Ensano, as evidenced by TCT No. 6178. Ownership was subsequently transferred to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) which, in turn, sold the property to Dr. Rodolfo Vargas in a deed of absolute sale dated March 30, 1988. Despite these transfers of ownership, however, the property was registered in the names of DBP and Dr. Vargas (TCT Nos. 941 and 942, respectively) only on February 21, 1996.            

Meanwhile, on March 14, 1991, petitioner entered into a contract of lease for one door of the building with Ronald Vargas, son of Dr. Vargas, who represented himself as the absolute owner of the property. Under the agreement (which was not registered in the Register of Deeds), the lease was to run until April 1, 1996.  

On September 27, 1995, Dr. Vargas sold the property to respondent. This was evidenced by a deed of absolute sale of even date. TCT No. 949 in the name of the respondent was subsequently issued on April 10, 1996. 

In the meantime, on October 30, 1995, petitioner entered into a new contract of lease with Ronald Vargas who again misrepresented himself as the absolute owner of the property. This new agreement extended the term of the original contract of lease between the parties and included the remaining door of the building in its coverage. It was to be effective for a period of five years from November 1, 1995, or until November 1, 2000.            

Since respondent had not yet taken possession of the building, petitioner immediately occupied the additional door upon the execution of the new contract of lease. He made advance payments for the rent of the two doors until June 1997. He also sought to register the new contract of lease with the Register of Deeds of Iriga City. However, the contract was entered only in the primary book because it could not be registered for several reasons: (a) the requisite tax had not been paid (b) the contract lacked a documentary stamp and (c) the tax declaration of the property was not in the name of the lessor.[2]             

On April 30, 1996, petitioner received respondent's April 25, 1996 letter demanding that he vacate the property and surrender its possession. On June 20, 1996, petitioner received another letter from respondent's counsel reiterating the demand for him to vacate the property.  All this notwithstanding, petitioner refused to vacate the premises.            

On September 4, 1996, respondent filed a complaint for unlawful detainer with damages against petitioner in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Iriga City, Branch 2. It was, however, dismissed for failure to state a cause of action.
On appeal, the RTC of Iriga City, Branch 37, reversed the decision of the MTCC and ordered petitioner to vacate the property and surrender its possession to respondent. Petitioner was also ordered to pay respondent P50,000 as attorney's fees and P7,000 per month as rental for the property from September 1995 until petitioner vacated the premises. Petitioner moved for a reconsideration of the RTC decision but the motion was denied.

On respondent's motion, the RTC issued a writ of execution dated December 1, 1997.[3] It was received on December 3, 1997 by petitioner's wife. Petitioner filed an urgent motion for time to vacate the premises[4] and a supplemental motion for time to vacate the property,[5] praying for thirty days from December 5, 1997 (the deadline given by the sheriff for petitioner to leave the premises) within which to vacate the property. On December 9, 1997, the RTC denied petitioner's motion and directed the sheriff to immediately effect the restitution and delivery of the property to respondent.  

The sheriff filed a manifestation with motion dated December 9, 1997[6] praying that the use of force to implement the writ of execution be allowed in order to open the premises and deliver its possession to respondent. On the other hand, petitioner moved for a reconsideration of the December 9, 1997 order of the RTC as well as for the suspension of the implementation of the writ of execution.  

Acting on the sheriff's manifestation with motion and the petitioner's motion for reconsideration and/or suspension of the implementation of the writ of execution, the RTC, in an order dated December 11, 1997, denied petitioner's motion and allowed the sheriff to execute the writ pursuant to paragraph (c) of Rule 39, Section 10 of the Rules of Court.  

As authorized by the trial court, the sheriff forced open the main entrance of the building and delivered possession of the property to respondent on December 15, 1997.[7]  

Petitioner filed a petition for review with the CA. It was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 46065.  On July 15, 1999, the CA affirmed the RTC decision with modification. The CA ruled that petitioner's right of possession to the property was only by virtue of the second lease contract dated October 30, 1995 between petitioner and Ronald Vargas. It was clear, however, that Ronald Vargas was not the owner of the property and therefore had no right to lease it out. Petitioner himself admitted respondent's ownership of the property. Neither was there any evidence that Ronald Vargas had been authorized by respondent or even by Dr. Vargas himself to transact the second lease on their behalf.              

 The CA held that petitioner's possession of the property from the date of purchase by respondent was merely by tolerance. Such possession became unlawful from the time respondent made a demand on petitioner to vacate it. 

The CA further ruled that petitioner could not pretend ignorance of the ownership of the property when he entered into the second lease agreement. The property was registered with the Register of Deeds and such registration constituted notice to the whole world.  

However, the CA reduced the award of attorney's fees from P50,000 to P20,000 for lack of factual basis. The CA also took the stipulation in petitioner's lease agreement into consideration and reduced the rent from P7,000 to P5,000 per month, and only for the period covering July 1 to December 15, 1997.      

Petitioner moved for a reconsideration of the CA decision but it was denied in a resolution dated May 25, 2000.   

Hence, this petition, which raises the following issues:
  1. whether or not respondent could legally eject petitioner or terminate the lease; 

  2. whether or not respondent was able to establish a cause of action; 

  3. whether or not the trial court (MTCC of Iriga City, Br. 2) had jurisdiction to try the case; 

  4. whether or not, as ruled by the [CA], there was pretended ignorance by petitioner of the ownership of the property; 

  5. whether or not the [CA's] award of attorney's fees was justified; 

  6. whether or not the implementation of the writ of execution dated December 1, 1997 on December 15, 1997 was valid; 

  7. whether or not respondent and the sheriffs who implemented on December 15, 1997 the writ of execution dated December 1, 1997 (as reiterated by the RTC's order of December 11, 1997) should be held in contempt of court [and] 

  8. whether or not the [RTC had] the jurisdiction to issue a writ for the implementation of the [CA's] decision when the case was originally filed with the [MTCC].[8]

Petitioner contends that respondent could not have legally ejected him from the premises or terminated the lease. He claims that the two lease contracts he entered into with Ronald Vargas were valid and that contracts validly entered into by a predecessor-in-interest should be respected by, and be binding upon, his successor-in-interest. According to petitioner, he was not unlawfully detaining the property because the action was commenced by respondent while the second lease contract was still in force. He insists that his good faith and honest belief that he was transacting with the true owner should be considered in favor of the validity of the lease contracts entered into by him.    

Petitioner also invokes our ruling in Garcia v. Court of Appeals[9] that the owner's successor-in-interest must respect an existing contract of lease. Any attempt to eject the lessee within the period of lease constitutes a breach of contract.
Petitioner further asserts that the second lease contract was "registered" with the Register of Deeds of Iriga City, hence respondent had notice thereof and was bound to respect it.  We disagree.    

The first premise of petitioner's argument, that both lease agreements were valid, is erroneous. As correctly observed by the RTC and the CA, Ronald Vargas was not the owner of the property and had no authority to let it.  

Although the lessor need not be the owner of the property being leased,[10] he should have a right (e.g., either as a usufructuary or a lessee) or at least an authority (e.g., as an agent of the owner, usufructuary, or lessee) to lease it out. Here, Ronald Vargas had neither the right nor the authority to grant petitioner the lease of the property. 

Dr. Vargas is deemed to have ratified the first lease because he never objected to it and in fact allowed petitioner to occupy the property for five years despite his knowledge of his son Ronald's misdeed.  Thus, we consider the first lease valid.  But the same cannot be said of the second lease.  Under the principle of relativity of contracts, the sale of the property by Dr. Vargas to respondent bound Ronald Vargas as an heir of the seller.  Neither did respondent authorize him to enter into a new lease contract with petitioner. Thus, Ronald Vargas could not have validly executed the second lease agreement upon which petitioner now bases his right to the continued possession of the property.   

The river cannot rise higher than its source. Where the purported lessor is bereft of any right or authority to lease out the property, then his supposed lessee does not acquire any right to the possession or enjoyment of the property.          

Suffice it to say that the second lease contract was legally inexistent for lack of an object certain.  Under Arts. 1318 and 1409 (3) of the Civil Code, contracts the cause or object of which did not exist at the time of the transaction are inexistent and void ab initio.

Petitioner's claim of good faith is of no moment. The good faith of a party in entering into a contract is immaterial in determining whether it is valid or not. Good faith, not being an essential element of a contract, has no bearing on its validity. No amount of good faith can validate an agreement which is otherwise void. A contract which the law denounces as void is necessarily no contract at all and no effort or act of the parties to create one can bring about a change in its legal status.[11]    

Any presumption of good faith on the part of petitioner disappeared after he learned from the Register of Deeds that the property was already registered in the name of another person. Possession in good faith ceases from the moment defects in the title are made known to the possessor by extraneous evidence or by a suit for recovery of the property by the true owner.[12] Every possessor in good faith becomes a possessor in bad faith from the moment he becomes aware that what he believed to be true is not so.[13]  

When petitioner presented the second lease contract to the Register of Deeds a day after its execution, his attention was called to the fact that the "lessor" (Ronald Vargas) whom he believed to be the owner of the property had no authority to lease it out. From that moment, his possession ceased to be in good faith. 

Petitioner's reliance on our ruling in the Garcia case is misplaced. Garcia involved the lease of a residential unit and was governed by a special law, "An Act Regulating Rentals of Dwelling Units or of Land on which Another's Dwelling is Located and for Other Purposes" (BP 25). In this case, the property involved is a commercial building, not a residential unit.  The Garcia case is therefore inapplicable.  
Assuming arguendo that Garcia is applicable, petitioner's argument would still be untenable. We held in Garcia that, while a successor-in-interest would be in breach of contract if he were to eject a lessee of his predecessor-in-interest during the existence of the lease, "where the lease has expired, there is no more contract to breach."  Since the lease between petitioner and Ronald Vargas had expired on April 1, 1996, there was no existing lease contract that could have been breached when respondent made a demand on petitioner to vacate the property on April 30, 1996.              


Petitioner's third argument is likewise without merit. Whether the second lease contract was registered or not was immaterial since it was void. Registration does not legitimize a void contract.        

Moreover, assuming for the sake of argument that the second contract could be registered, the primary entry thereof did not produce the effect of registration. Petitioner presented the second lease contract to the Register of Deeds of Iriga City for registration on October 31, 1995, or a day after its execution. The contract was, however, merely entered in the primary book. It was not registered because it lacked certain requisites.  

It is well settled that for the registration of voluntary instruments (e.g., deed of sale or contract of lease), it is necessary not only to register the deed, instrument of assignment, mortgage or lease in the entry book of the register of deeds but also for the Register of Deeds to annotate a memorandum thereof on the owner's duplicate certificate and its original.[14] In voluntary registration, if the owner's duplicate certificate is not surrendered and presented or if no payment of registration fees is made within fifteen days, entry in the day book will not convey or affect the land sold, mortgaged or leased.[15]  

Entry alone produces the effect of registration, whether the transaction entered is voluntary or involuntary, so long as the registrant has complied with all that is required of him for purposes of entry and annotation, and nothing more remains to be done but a duty incumbent solely on the Register of Deeds.[16] Here, petitioner admits that the second lease contract was refused registration by the Register of Deeds for his failure to comply with certain conditions for registration. And since petitioner failed to comply with all the requisites for entry and annotation, the entry in the primary book did not ripen into registration.  

Curiously, petitioner uses "registered" (that is, the word 'registered' in quotation marks) to describe his act of presenting the lease contract to the register of deeds. This shows that petitioner himself doubted whether he had actually fulfilled the requirements for the registration of the lease.

Petitioner also anchors his arguments against the ejectment on the second contract of lease which was inexistent and void ab initio. But even assuming that it was valid, it already lapsed on November 1, 2000, in which case the question of the propriety of petitioner's ejectment would now be moot. 


Petitioner asserts that the MTCC had no jurisdiction to try the case because the complaint did not allege that he was withholding possession of the property beyond the expiration of the lease period and that, in violation of Rule 70, Section 2 of the Rules of Court, respondent failed to establish a cause of action by omitting to allege that demand to vacate was made for failure to pay the rent or comply with the conditions of the contract.  We disagree. 

What determine the nature of the action as well as the court which has jurisdiction over the case are the allegations in the complaint.[17] In Hilario v. Court of Appeals,[18] we ruled:
The settled rule is that a complaint for unlawful detainer is sufficient if it contains the allegation that the withholding of possession or the refusal to vacate is unlawful, without necessarily employing the terminology of the law. The complaint must aver facts showing that the inferior court has jurisdiction to try the case, such as how defendant's possession started or continued. Thus, the allegation in a complaint that the "plaintiff verbally asked the defendants to remove their houses on the lot of the former but the latter refused and still refuse to do so without just and lawful grounds" was held to be more than sufficient compliance with the jurisdictional requirements. (citations omitted) 
The complaint filed with the MTCC alleged that petitioner had been holding the property by virtue of an expired lease contract with the son of respondent's predecessor-in-interest and that, despite demands made by respondent for him to vacate the property, petitioner had "unjustifiably refused to heed [respondent's] demand and continuously and unlawfully occup[ied] and possess[ed] [respondent's] property."[19] Nothing could be clearer to confer jurisdiction on the MTCC and to establish a cause of action. 

While possession by tolerance is lawful, such possession becomes illegal from the moment a demand to vacate is made by the owner and the possessor refuses to comply with such demand. [20] A person who occupies the land of another with 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 against him.[21]  

The CA correctly ruled that petitioner's possession from the time the property was sold to respondent was merely by tolerance. His lawful possession was interrupted when respondent demanded that he vacate the property. His refusal to comply with the demand made his continued possession unlawful, giving respondent the right to institute an action for unlawful detainer. 

Furthermore, it is also worthy to note that, in his motion for reconsideration of the RTC decision, petitioner explicitly prayed that the "MTCC decision be affirmed." Since he actively participated in the proceedings before the MTCC and in fact later sought the affirmation of its decision, he in effect recognized its jurisdiction and he should now be estopped from questioning the jurisdiction of that court. In other words, petitioner cannot now assail the jurisdiction of the MTCC after voluntarily submitting himself to its proceedings.[22] We have held that "while lack of jurisdiction may be assailed at any stage, a party's active participation in the proceedings before a court without jurisdiction will estop such party from assailing such lack of jurisdiction."[23] 


Petitioner argues that the award of attorney's fees was improper because it was touched upon only in the dispositive portion of the RTC decision, hence, the CA should not have merely reduced the award of attorney's fees but should have deleted it entirely. We agree.

The award of attorney's fees is the exception, not the general rule. It is not sound public policy to place a penalty on the right to litigate; nor should attorney's fees be awarded every time a party wins a lawsuit.[24] It is necessary for the court to make express findings of facts and law that would bring the case within the exception and justify the grant of such award.[25]
The CA correctly noted that the decisions of both the MTCC and the RTC do not state any factual basis for an award of attorney's fees. In particular, the award of attorney's fees was mentioned only in the dispositive portion of the RTC decision. Nonetheless, instead of deleting the award of attorney's fees, the CA merely reduced the amount thereof from P50,000 to P20,000 on the ground that attorney's fees may be awarded "if the court deems it just and equitable."  

Article 2208 (11) of the Civil Code allows the recovery of counsel's fees:
where the court deems it just and equitable that attorney's fees and expenses of litigation should be recovered.
However, the conclusion must be borne out by findings of facts and law.[26] The exercise of judicial discretion in the award of attorney's fees under Article 2208 (11) of the Civil Code demands a factual, legal or equitable justification. Without such justification, the award is a conclusion without a premise, its basis being improperly left to speculation and conjecture.[27]      

 The matter of attorney's fees cannot be dealt with only in the dispositive portion of the decision. The text of the decision must state the reason behind the award of attorney's fees.[28]  Otherwise, its award is totally unjustified.


Petitioner alleges that the writ of execution was implemented in violation of the Rules of Court because it was implemented after only one working day from his receipt of a copy of the order dated December 11, 1997 (denying his motion for reconsideration and/or suspension of the implementation of the writ of execution) instead of three working days as provided in Rule 39, Section 10 (c) of the Rules of Court. According to him, since the implementation of the writ was not in accordance with the Rules of Court, the sheriffs should have been cited in contempt by the CA.  

Petitioner's error was that he counted the three days from receipt of denial of his motion for reconsideration and/or suspension of the implementation of the writ on December 12, 1997.  He should have counted it from receipt by his wife of the copy of the writ of execution on December 3, 1997. 

Under Rule 39, Section 10 (c) of the Rules of Court,[29] the writ of execution is carried out by giving the defendant notice of such writ and making a demand that the latter vacate the property within three working days from such notice. Hence, the three-day period of implementation of the writ of execution should be reckoned from the date petitioner was notified of the writ, that is, from December 3, 1997, the date his wife received the notice or writ.    

The December 9, 1997 manifestation and motion filed by the sheriff and the December 16, 1997 sheriff's report state that the sheriff served a copy of the writ on the wife of the petitioner on December 3, 1997. Receipt of a copy of the writ by petitioner's wife in their office constituted constructive personal service on petitioner.[30]  Thus, the sheriff could have lawfully ejected petitioner from the property as early as December 8, 1997, the third working day from notice of the writ of execution to petitioner.  

Besides, in his December 4, 1997 urgent motion for time to vacate the premises, petitioner admitted that a writ had been issued by the RTC and a copy thereof received by his wife. And in his December 8, 1997 supplemental motion for time to vacate the property, petitioner alleged that the writ of execution issued by the trial court on December 1, 1997 "[gave] the sheriff 30 days from [petitioner's] receipt of the writ within which to implement the same." These incidents indubitably show that petitioner had notice of the issuance of the writ of execution within a sufficient period before the writ was actually implemented on December 15, 1997. There was substantial compliance with the requirement of service or notice when petitioner acquired knowledge of the writ of execution.[31]     

Since the writ of execution was properly issued, served and implemented, there was no basis to hold the sheriffs in contempt. 


Petitioner also questions the July 4, 2000 order of the RTC directing the issuance of a writ to enforce the petitioner's civil liability as determined by the CA.  Petitioner insists that it is either the MTCC where the case was originally filed or the CA itself which should have issued the writ.  

This particular issue was never brought to the attention of the CA. Moreover, a diligent search of the entire records of this case failed to yield a copy of the alleged July 4, 2000 order. Except for the bare allegations of petitioner, there is therefore no way to determine the nature and import of the challenged order. 

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The July 15, 1999 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 46065 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of attorney's fees is deleted.  

Costs against petitioner.   

SO ORDERED.                                                        
Puno, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez and Azcuna JJ., concur.
Garcia, J., no part.

Penned by Associate Justice Bernardo LL. Salas and concurred in by Associate Justices Cancio C. Garcia (now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) and Candido V. Rivera (now retired) of the Fifth Division of the Court of Appeals.

[2] Records, p. 99.

[3] Records, pp. 102-103.

[4] Id., p. 105.

[5] Id., p. 106.

[6] Id., p. 109.

[7] Sheriff's Report dated December 16, 1997; Records, pp. 165-174.

[8] Rollo, p. 20.

[9] G.R. No. 88632, 22 March 1993, 220 SCRA 264.


[11] Development Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, 319 Phil. 447 (1995).

[12] Ortiz v. Kayanan, G.R. No. L-32974, 30 July 1979, 92 SCRA 146.

[13] Tacas v. Tobon, 53 Phil. 356 (1929).

[14] Villasor v. Camon, 89 Phil. 404 (1951).

[15] Levin v. Bass, 91 Phil. 419 (1952), cited in DBP v. Acting Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija, UDK No. 7671, 23 June 1988, 162 SCRA 450.

[16] Caviles, Jr. v. Bautista, 377 Phil. 25 (1999), citing DBP v. Acting Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija, supra.

[17] Sumulong v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108817, 10 May 1994, 232 SCRA 372.

[18] 329 Phil. 202 (1996).

[19] Records, p. 2.

[20] Prieto v. Reyes, 121 Phil. 1218 (1965).

[21] Yu v. de Lara, 116 Phil. 1105 (1962).

Spouses Benitez v. Court of Appeals, 334 Phil. 216 (1997).

[23] Romualdez v. RTC, Br. 7, Tacloban City, G.R. No. 104960, 14 September 1993, 226 SCRA 408, citing Salen v. Dinglasan, G.R. No. 59082, 28 June 1991, 198 SCRA 623 and Tijam v. Sibonghanoy, 131 Phil. 556 (1968).

[24] Buan v. Camaganacan, 123 Phil. 131 (1966), citing the cases of Tan Ti v. Alvear, 26 Phil. 568 (1914) and Jimenez v. Bucoy, 103 Phil. 40 (1958).

Mirasol v. de la Cruz, G.R. No. L-32552, 31 July 1978, 84 SCRA 337.

[26] Buan v. Camaganacan, supra.

[27] Mirasol v. de la Cruz, supra, citing Buan v. Camaganacan, supra.

[28] Valiant Machinery and Metal Corporation v. NLRC, 322 Phil. 407 (1996), citing Mirasol v. de la Cruz, supra.

[29] Section 10. Execution of judgments for specific act. –

x x x                    x x x                    x x x
c.  Delivery or restitution of real property.  The officer shall demand of the person against whom the judgment for the delivery or restitution of real property is rendered and all persons claiming rights under him to peaceably vacate the property within three (3) working days, and restore possession thereof to the judgment obligee; otherwise, the officer shall oust all such persons therefrom with the assistance, if necessary, of appropriate peace officers, and employing such means as may be reasonably necessary to retake possession, and place the judgment obligee in possession of such property. Any costs, damages, rents or profits awarded by the judgment shall be satisfied in the same manner as a judgment for money. (13a) 

x x x                    x x x                    x x x

Cf. Section 4, Rule 13, Rules of Court. Personal service may be actual, i.e., on the party himself, or constructive. Constructive personal service may be done either by leaving a copy of the paper with the party's lawyer or in the office of the party or his attorney with his clerk or with a person having charge thereof, or, if no person is found in his office or his office is not known, by leaving it in the party's or attorney's residence with a person of sufficient discretion to receive the same.

[31] Cf. de Los Reyes v. Ugarte, 75 Phil. 506 (1945) and Luzon Rubber and Manufacturing Company v. Estaris, 152 Phil. 341 (1973).

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