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604 Phil. 294


[ G.R. No. 145222, April 24, 2009 ]




Before this Court is a petition for certiorari assailing the Decision[1]  of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 47029 and its Resolution denying the motion for reconsideration thereof.

The case stemmed from the following factual backdrop:

On 30 April 1984, Spouses Roberto and Venus Buado (petitioners) filed a complaint for damages against Erlinda Nicol (Erlinda) with Branch 19 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bacoor, Cavite, docketed as Civil Case No. 84-33.  Said action originated from Erlinda Nicol's civil liability arising from the criminal offense of slander filed against her by petitioners.

On 6 April 1987, the trial court rendered a decision ordering Erlinda to pay damages. The dispositive portion reads:
Wherefore, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff[s] and against defendant ordering the latter to pay the former the amount of thirty thousand (P30,000.00) pesos as moral damages, five thousand (P5,000.00) pesos as attorney's fees and litigation expenses, another five thousand (P5,000.00) pesos as exemplary damages and the cost of suit.[2]
Said decision was affirmed, successively, by the Court of Appeals and this Court.  It became final and executory on 5 March 1992.

On 14 October 1992, the trial court issued a writ of execution, a portion of which provides:
Now, therefore, you are commanded that of the goods and chattels of the defendant Erlinda Nicol, or from her estates or legal heirs, you cause the sum in the amount of forty thousand pesos (P40,000.00), Philippine Currency, representing the moral damages, attorney's fees and litigation expenses and exemplary damages and the cost of suit of the plaintiff aside from your lawful fees on this execution and do likewise return this writ into court within sixty (60) days from date, with your proceedings endorsed hereon.

But if sufficient personal property cannot be found whereof to satisfy this execution and lawful fees thereon, then you are commanded that of the lands and buildings of said defendant you make the said sum of money in the manner required by the Rules of Court, and make return of your proceedings with this writ within sixty (60) days from date.[3]
Finding Erlinda Nicol's personal properties insufficient to satisfy the judgment, the Deputy Sheriff issued a notice of levy on real property on execution addressed to the Register of Deeds of Cavite.  The notice of levy was annotated on the Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-125322.

On 20 November 1992, a notice of sheriff's sale was issued.

Two (2) days before the public auction sale on 28 January 1993, an affidavit of third-party claim from one Arnulfo F. Fulo was received by the deputy sheriff prompting petitioners to put up a sheriff's indemnity bond.  The auction sale proceeded with petitioners as the highest bidder.

On 4 February 1993, a certificate of sale was issued in favor of petitioners.

Almost a year later on 2 February 1994, Romulo Nicol (respondent), the husband of Erlinda Nicol, filed a complaint for annulment of certificate of sale and damages with preliminary injunction against petitioners and the deputy sheriff.  Respondent, as plaintiff therein, alleged that the defendants, now petitioners, connived and directly levied upon and execute his real property without exhausting the personal properties of Erlinda Nicol.  Respondent averred that there was no proper publication and posting of the notice of sale.  Furthermore, respondent claimed that his property which was valued at P500,000.00 was only sold at a "very low price" of P51,685.00, whereas the judgment obligation of Erlinda Nicol was only P40,000.00. The case was assigned to Branch 21 of the RTC of Imus, Cavite.

In response, petitioners filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and that they had acted on the basis of a valid writ of execution. Citing De Leon v. Salvador,[4]  petitioners claimed that respondent should have filed the case with Branch 19 where the judgment originated and which issued the order of execution, writ of execution, notice of levy and notice of sheriff's sale.

In an Order[5]  dated 18 April 1994, the RTC dismissed respondent's complaint and ruled that Branch 19 has jurisdiction over the case, thus:
As correctly pointed out by the defendants, any flaw in the implementation of the writ of execution by the implementing sheriff must be brought before the court issuing the writ of execution.  Besides, there are two (2) remedies open to the plaintiff, if he feels that the property being levied on belongs to him and not to the judgment debtor.  The first remedy is to file a third-party claim.  If he fails to do this, a right is reserved to him to vindicate his claim over the property by any proper action.  But certainly, this is not the proper action reserved to the plaintiff to vindicate his claim over the property in question to be ventilated before this court.  As earlier stated, this case should have been addressed to Branch 19, RTC Bacoor as it was that court which issued the writ of execution.[6]
Respondent moved for reconsideration but it was denied on 26 July 1994.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that Branch 21 has jurisdiction to act on the complaint filed by appellant.  The dispositive portion reads:
WHEREFORE, the Orders appealed from are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  This case is REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, Branch 21 for further proceedings.

Petitioners' motion for reconsideration was denied on 23 August 2000.  Hence, the instant petition attributing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Court of Appeals.

A petition for certiorari is an extraordinary remedy that is adopted to correct errors of jurisdiction committed by the lower court or quasi-judicial agency, or when there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of such court or agency amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Where the error is not one of jurisdiction, but of law or fact which is a mistake of judgment, the proper remedy should be appeal.  In addition, an independent action for certiorari may be availed of only when there is no appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.[8]

Nowhere in the petition was it shown that the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals was questioned.  The issue devolves on whether the husband of the judgment debtor may file an independent action to protect the conjugal property subject to execution. The alleged error therefore is an error of judgment which is a proper subject of an appeal.

Nevertheless, even if we were to treat this petition as one for review, the case should still be dismissed on substantive grounds.

Petitioners maintain that Branch 19 retained jurisdiction over its judgment to the exclusion of all other co-ordinate courts for its execution and all incidents thereof, in line with De Leon v. Salvador.  Petitioners insist that respondent, who is the husband of the judgment debtor, is not the "third party" contemplated in Section 17 (now Section 16), Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, hence a separate action need not be filed.  Furthermore, petitioners assert that the obligation of the wife redounded to the benefit of the conjugal partnership and cited authorities to the effect that the husband is liable for the tort committed by his wife.

Respondent on the other hand merely avers that the decision of the Court of Appeals is supported by substantial evidence and in accord with law and jurisprudence.[9]

Verily, the question of jurisdiction could be resolved through a proper interpretation of Section 16, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, which reads:

Sec. 16. Proceedings where property claimed by third person.
If the property levied on is claimed by any person other than the judgment obligor or his agent, and such person makes an affidavit of his title thereto or right to the possession thereof, stating the grounds of such right or title, and serves the same upon the officer making the levy and a copy thereof upon the judgment obligee, the officer shall not be bound to keep the property, unless such judgment obligee, on demand of the officer, files a bond approved by the court to indemnify the third-party claimant in a sum not less than the value of the property levied on. In case of disagreement as to such value, the same shall be determined by the court issuing the writ of execution. No claim for damages for the taking or keeping of the property may be enforced against the bond unless the action therefor is filed within one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of the filing of the bond.

The officer shall not be liable for damages for the taking or keeping of the property, to any third-party claimant if such bond is filed. Nothing herein contained shall prevent such claimant or any third person from vindicating his claim to the property in a separate action, or prevent the judgment obligee from claiming damages in the same or a separate action against a third-party claimant who filed a frivolous or plainly spurious claim.

When the writ of execution is issued in favor of the Republic of the Philippines, or any officer duly representing it, the filing of such bond shall not be required, and in case the sheriff or levying officer is sued for damages as a result of the levy, he shall be represented by the Solicitor General and if held liable therefor, the actual damages adjudged by the court shall be paid by the National Treasurer out of such funds as may be appropriated for the purpose. (Emphasis Supplied)
Apart from the remedy of terceria available to a third-party claimant or to a stranger to the foreclosure suit against the sheriff or officer effecting the writ by serving on him an affidavit of his title and a copy thereof upon the judgment creditor, a third-party claimant may also resort to an independent separate action, the object of which is the recovery of ownership or possession of the property seized by the sheriff, as well as damages arising from wrongful seizure and detention of the property. If a separate action is the recourse, the third-party claimant must institute in a forum of competent jurisdiction an action, distinct and separate from the action in which the judgment is being enforced, even before or without need of filing a claim in the court that issued the writ.[10]

A third-party claim must be filed a person other than the judgment debtor or his agent.  In other words, only a stranger to the case may file a third-party claim.

This leads us to the question: Is the husband, who was not a party to the suit but whose conjugal property is being executed on account of the other spouse being the judgment obligor, considered a "stranger?"

In determining whether the husband is a stranger to the suit, the character of the property must be taken into account.  In Mariano v. Court of Appeals,[11] which was later adopted in Spouses Ching v. Court of Appeals,[12] this Court held that the husband of the judgment debtor cannot be deemed a "stranger" to the case prosecuted and adjudged against his wife for an obligation that has redounded to the benefit of the conjugal partnership.[13]    On the other hand, in Naguit v. Court of Appeals[14] and Sy v. Discaya,[15]  the Court stated that a spouse is deemed a stranger to the action wherein the writ of execution was issued and is therefore justified in bringing an independent action to vindicate her right of ownership over his exclusive or paraphernal property.

Pursuant to Mariano however, it must further be settled whether the obligation of the judgment debtor redounded to the benefit of the conjugal partnership or not.

Petitioners argue that the obligation of the wife arising from her criminal liability is chargeable to the conjugal partnership.  We do not agree.

There is no dispute that contested property is conjugal in nature.  Article 122 of the Family Code[16]  explicitly provides that payment of personal debts contracted by the husband or the wife before or during the marriage shall not be charged to the conjugal partnership except insofar as they redounded to the benefit of the family.

Unlike in the system of absolute community where liabilities incurred by either spouse by reason of a crime or quasi-delict is chargeable to the absolute community of property, in the absence or insufficiency of the exclusive property of the debtor-spouse, the same advantage is not accorded in the system of conjugal partnership of gains.  The conjugal partnership of gains has no duty to make advance payments for the liability of the debtor-spouse.

Parenthetically, by no stretch of imagination can it be concluded that the civil obligation arising from the crime of slander committed by Erlinda redounded to the benefit of the conjugal partnership.

To reiterate, conjugal property cannot be held liable for the personal obligation contracted by one spouse, unless some advantage or benefit is shown to have accrued to the conjugal partnership.[17]

In Guadalupe v. Tronco,[18]  this Court held that the car which was claimed by the third party complainant to be conjugal property was being levied upon to enforce "a judgment for support" filed by a third person, the third-party claim of the wife is proper since the obligation which is personal to the husband is chargeable not on the conjugal property but on his separate property.

Hence, the filing of a separate action by respondent is proper and jurisdiction is thus vested on Branch 21.  Petitioners failed to show that the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in remanding the case to Branch 21 for further proceedings.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED.  The Decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED.  Costs against petitioners.


Carpio Morales*, Acting Chairperson, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, and Brion, JJ., concur.

* Acting Chairperson as replacement of Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing who is on official leave per Special Order No. 618.

** Additional member of the Second Division per Special Order No. 619.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Jainal D. Rasul, concurred in by Associate Justices Hector L. Hofileña and Artemio S. Tuquero.

[2] Records, p. 10.

[3] Id. at 11.

[4] No. L-30871, December 28, 1970, 36 SCRA 567.

[5] Issued by Judge Roy S. Del Rosario.

[6] Records, p. 67.

[7] Rollo, p. 26.

[8] Centro Escolar University Faculty and Allied Workers Union v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 165486, 31 May 2006, 490 SCRA 61, 70.

[9] Rollo, p. 59.

[10] China Banking Corporation v. Spouses Ordinario, G.R. No. 121943, 24 March 2003, 399 SCRA 430, 431.

[11] G.R. No. 51283, 7 June 1989, 174 SCRA 59.

[12] G.R. No. 124642, 23 February 2004, 423 SCRA 356.

[13] Supra note 11 at 68.

[14] G.R. No. 7675, December 5, 2000, 347 SCRA 60.

[15] G.R. No. 86301, January 23, 1990, 181 SCRA 378.

[16] Art. 122. The payment of personal debts contracted by the husband or the wife before or during the marriage shall not be charged to the conjugal properties partnership except insofar as they redounded to the benefit of the family.

Neither shall the fines and pecuniary indemnities imposed upon them be charged to the partnership.

However, the payment of personal debts contracted by either spouse before the marriage, that of fines and indemnities imposed upon them, as well as the support of illegitimate children of either spouse, may be enforced against the partnership assets after the responsibilities enumerated in the preceding Article have been covered, if the spouse who is bound should have no exclusive property or if it should be insufficient; but at the time of the liquidation of the partnership, such spouse shall be charged for what has been paid for the purpose above-mentioned.

[17] Go v. Yamane, G.R. No. 160762, 3 May 2006, 489 SCRA 107.

[18] A.M. No. P-142, 28 February 1978,  81 SCRA 605.

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