355 Phil. 311

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 120166, August 03, 1998 ]

DOMINADOR ARAMBULO, PETITIONER, VS. COURT OF APPEALS AND FLORA FLORES, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

KAPUNAN, J.:

Challenged in this petition for review on certiorari are the Decision dated September 23, 1994 of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-GR CV No. 25027 and its resolution dated April 19,1995 denying herein petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of said decision.

On March 3,1986, petitioner Dominador Arambulo filed a complaint for annulment of sale with damages against private respondent Flora Flores, docketed as Civil Case No. 8585-R11-AF, in the Regional Trial Court of Cabanatuan City, Branch 27, alleging inter alia that: he is the lawful owner in fee simple of a parcel of agricultural land consisting of one hundred twenty-four thousand five hundred and twelve (124,512) square meters, more or less, located at Barangay Soledad, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. NT-21357 in his name duly entered in the Registration Book of the Registry of Deeds of Nueva Ecija, Volume A-101, page 126, as Original Certificate of Title No. 0-1330 pursuant to decree No. N-51582, issued in GLRO Cadastral Record No. 1556; that his title was illegally cancelled by the Register of Deeds in favor of one Flora Flores pursuant to a deed of sale he allegedly executed in favor of respondent Flores; that he never executed said deed of sale; that respondent Flores caused the preparation of fictitious documents to buttress her claim of ownership, namely: (a) petition for the issuance of a second owner’s copy of TCT No. NT-21357 on the pretext that the same was lost and by making it appear that it was the petitioner who filed the petition; (b) order of RTC of Cabanatuan City, Branch XXV dated September 20,1984, allegedly issued by Judge Domingo Garcia, directing the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija to issue a second owner’s copy upon payment of prescribed fees; and (c) certification dated October 9, 1984 allegedly issued by acting branch clerk of court Rosalinda Adrineda to the effect that the decision of the RTC with respect to the foregoing petition has not been amended, supplemented or modified by any subsequent order; that upon verification with RTC, Branch XXV, it was discovered that the above orders and documents are spurious and non-existent; and that, respondent Flores was able to cause the issuance of TCT No, NT-187175 in her name by virtue of the falsified deed of sale. Petitioner prayed for the annulment of the deed of sale, the cancellation of TCT No. Nt-187175 in Flores’ name, the restoration of TCT No. Nt-21357 in his name and an award for moral damages, actual damages as payment of rent and attorney’s fees.

In due course, respondent Flora Flores filed her answer traversing the allegations in the complaint and averring by way of special and affirmative defenses that she bought the property in good faith and for value and thus, caused the registration of the same in her name; that the complaint was initiated at the instance of some unscrupulous persons who wanted to extort money from her, that Dominador Arambulo is dead; that somebody is merely using his name to make it appear that he filed the present action; and that the instant complaint is malicious and is meant to harass her.

Issues having been joined, trial ensued.

During the trial, only petitioner Arambulo evidence. Respondent Flores did not submit any evidence, testimonial or otherwise.

On October 12, 1989, the trial court rendered a decision based on its finding, viz:

1.   That the plaintiff (herein petitioner) is the registered owner of a parcel of land under TCT No. NT-21357, with an area of 124,512 square meters, situated at Soledad, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija;

2.   That the petition filed by defendant (herein respondent) for the issuance of a second owner’s duplicate copy of TCT No. NT-21357 was fictitiuos;

3.   That the alleged order of Judge Domingo Garcia dated September 20, 1984 (Exh. F is likewise fictitious;

4.   That the certification (Exh. E) allegedly issued by the Acting Branch Clerk of Court, Mrs. Rosalinda Adrineda in connection with the petition for the issuance of second owner’s duplicate copy of TCT No. NT-21357 is likewise fictitious;

5.   That the deed of absolute sale purportedly executed by the plaintiff Dominador Arambulo in favor of the defendant Flora Flores is falsified;

6.   That a decision was rendered by the Court of Appeals in the case entitled: Rosalinda Z. Tiongco vs. Dominador Arambulo, docketed as CA-G.R. No. 32537-R, CAD Case No. LRC Cad. Reg. No. 1557, whereby the title of the plaintiff Dominador Arambulo was ordered cancelled in favor of the petitioner therein, Dr. Rosalinda Z. Tiongco;

7.   That the said decision of the Court of Appeals was promulgated on February 26,1965 and has become final and executory on March 26, 1965 and that the said decision has ever been enforced since March 26, 1965 up to the present.[1]

The dispositive portion of said decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant, as follows:

1.   Declaring as null and void the deed of absolute sale, purportedly executed by the plaintiff Dominador Arambulo in favor of the defendant Flora Flores covering TCT No. Nt-21357 dated May 18, 1979, and more particularly known as Doc. No. 178; Page no. 36; Book No, III, Series of 1979 of the notarial register of Victor W. Galang.

2.   Ordering the Register of Deeds for the Province of Nueva Ecija to cancel TCT No. NT-187175 issued in the name of the defendant Flora Flores and to issue a new title in favor of the plaintiff Dominador Arambulo over the said parcel of land.

3.   Ordering the defendant to surrender for cancellation the second owner’s copy of TCT No. NT-187175 to the Register of Deeds for the Province of Nueva Ecija in order to enforce the decision of this Court;

4.   Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the amount of P50,000.00 as moral and exemplary damages;

5.   Ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff the amount of P5,000.00 as attorney’s fees; and

6.   Ordering the defendant to pay the costs of this suit.

SO ORDERED.[2]
Aggrieved by the ruling, respondent Flora appealed the same to the Court of Appeals.

Respondent court, in its Decision dated September 23, 1994, sustained the trial court’s findings as to falsify and spuriousness of the trial court’s order of September 20, 1984 and the certification dated October 9, 1984 of its Acting Branch Clerk of Court. These forged documents, in the language of the respondent court, are "not lawful bases for the issuance of a new owner’s duplicate copy of TCT No. NT-21357 (Exh. ‘A’) and the subsequent TCT No. NT-187175 (Exh. ‘B’) in the name of defendant-appellant." Nonetheless, respondent court found the Deed of Absolute Sale purportedly executed by petitioner in favor of private respondent as valid and genuine. The decretal portion of respondent court’s decision reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, the appealed judgment is MODIFIED, the dispositive portion of which should read as follows:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:

1. Declaring as valid the Deed of Absolute Sale, executed by the plaintiff Dominador Arambulo in favor of the defendant Flora Flores covering TCT No. NT-21357 dated May 18, 1979, and more particularly known as Cod. (sic) No. 178; Page No. 30 (sic); Book No. III; Series of 1979 of the notarial register of Victor W. Galang.

2. Ordering the Register of Deeds for the Province of Nueva Ecija to cancel TCT No. NT-187175 for being null and void.

3. Ordering the defendant to surrender for cancellation the second owner’s copy of TCT No. NT-187175 to the Register of Deeds for the Province of Nueva Ecija.

4. Let a copy of herein decision be furnished the Provincial Prosecutor of Nueva Ecija for proper investigation and filing of the proper criminal case against the persons responsible for the spurious order dated September 20, 1984 (Exh. F) and certification dated October 9, 1984 (Exh. E).

SO ORDERED.[3]
Hence, the present petition contending that respondent court committed reversible error in "disregarding the rules on pleadings and judicial admissions" with particular reference to specific denials and in "not applying settled doctrines on land titles and deeds."[4]

The petition is impressed with merit.

While, as a rule, the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are final and conclusive and cannot be reviewed on appeal by this Court,[5] this Court will painstakingly scrutinize the records when the findings of the trial court and those of respondent Court of appeals’ are conflicting and contradictory.

Petitioner maintains that the questioned deed of sale is spurious and non-existent. He claims that he does not know respondent Flores and has never executed a deed of sale in her favor.

However, respondent court, in declaring that said deed of sale is valid, ruled in this wise:
1.   The only evidence presented by plaintiff-appellee to show that the deed of absolute sale (Exh. C) is forged in his bare testimony denying that he sold the lots in question to the defendant-appellant (TSN, Hearing of August 1, 1991, p. 5). The deed of sale which is duly acknowledged by plaintiff-appellee with the marital consent of his wife before notary public Victor W. Galang (Exh. C) cannot be set aside and declared null and void by simple denial of plaintiff-appellee. Notarization of a private document into public one and renders it admissible in court without further proof of its authenticity (Joson vs. Baltazar, 194 SCRA 114);

2.   The authority of Galang to act as notary public is not questioned by plaintiff-appellee. There is no evidence imputing Galang’s authority. It is not even alleged in the answer. The Supreme Court has ruled that a notarial acknowledgment attaches full faith and credit to the document concerned. It also creates upon the document the presumption of regularity in the absence of strong, complete and conclusive proof of its nullity (Sales vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. no. 40145, promulgated July 29, 1992). Appellee’s evidence on this matter is nil. As such, the validity of the Deed of Absolute Sale (Exh. C) must necessarily be upheld.[6]

We do not agree
There is no notarial acknowledgment to speak of that would give full faith and credit to the deed of sale or create a presumption of its regularity for the simple reason that the document is not the original but merely a photocopy taken from the file of the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija where the deed of sale was supposedly registered. The document was attached by petitioner to his complaint and submitted as evidence for the purpose of establishing that it is a forgery.

It is extant from the records of this case that petitioner brought the instant action precisely to seek the annulment of a deed of sale which he claims to be fictitious. In his complaint, he vehemently denied having sold the disputed property to respondent Flores and having executed the questioned deed. He likewise disowned the signature appearing above his typewritten name. He reiterated these facts during his direct and cross-examinations.

We find the facts duly established by evidence sufficient to arrive at a reasonable conclusion that the deed of sale is a forgery.

It should be emphasized at the outset that both the trial court and the respondent court are unanimous in finding that the three (3) documents submitted by herein respondent to the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija to have the title of the land registered in her name are all spurious, namely: (a) the petition for issuance of a second owner’s copy of TCT No. NT-21357 allegedly filed by petitioner; (b) the Order dated September 20, 1994 purportedly issued by Judge Domingo Garcia of the RTC, Branch XXV of Cabanatuan city; and (c) the certification allegedly signed by acting clerk of court Rosalinda Adrineda. Respondent court on this point held:

xxx We find no cogent reason to disturb the trial court’s ruling that the Order dated September 20, 1984 (Exh. F) purportedly issued by the Regional Trial Court (Branch 25) of Cabanatuan City and certification dated October 9, 1984 (Exh E) of the Acting Brach Clerk of Court of said court to the effect that the said order has not been cancelled, supplemented or otherwise modified by any subsequent decision or order, are fictitious and therefore not a (sic) lawful bases for the issuance of a new owner’s duplicate copy of TCT No. NT-21357 (Exh. A) and the subsequent TCT No. NT-187175 (Exh. B) in the name of defendant-appellant.

Appellant failed to controvert the positive and clear testimony of Rosallinda Adrineda , Acting Branch Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25 of Cabanatuan City, that she never issued the certification (Exh E); that the signature appearing therein is not hers; that she knows that Judge Domingo Garcia did not issue the order (Exh F) because the language used is different from that normally used by Judge Garcia granting the issuance of a second owner’s duplicate copy; that there is no record in the office showing that a petition for issuance of a new owner’s duplicate copy of appellee’s title had been filed; that she knew of this fact even before the fire that gutted the RTC office because of a person who made inquiry about the petition has been raffled and assigned to Branch 25; that no such records exist in their office (TSN, Hearing of August 26, 1987, pp. 6-8).

Appellant failed to rebut by sufficient evidence the above positive assertion of Adrineda, and therefore, no justifiable reason exist to discredit said testimony of Adrineda.

Moreover, an examination of the order in question (Exh. F) reveals that it does not contain any docket case number. Appellant could have easily referred to said docket number and presented the petition itself, or a copy thereof as well as the official receipt for the payment of the corresponding docket fees to prove the existence of such a petition; but, appellant failed to do so. Evidently, the Order (Exh. F), the certification(Exh. E) and the petition are all spurious and therefore TCT No. NT-187175 issued in the name of appellant is likewise spurious. xxx.[7]

The mere existence of the above-described spurious documents casts a serious doubt on the genuineness of the deed of sale which, incidentally, is just a photocopy attached to petitioner’s complaint, the original of which has not been produced in court. As already pointed out, it was petitioner who presented the photocopy as his evidence for the stated purpose of establishing its falsity. Apart from this, there is a plethora of factual details that point to the falsity of the questioned deed.

The address of petitioner reflected in the deed of sale allegedly executed in 1979 is 6th Street, Diliman, Quezon City, which, according to him is not true because he is in fact a resident of 86 Scout Rallos, Diliman, Quezon City starting from 1956.[8] This leads to the conclusion that the one who prepared the deed of sale did not know petitioner’s true address but merely relied on the address indicated on TCT No. NT-21357 which is 84 South 6th Street, Diliman, Quezon City. The tax account number (TAN) of petitioner indicated in the deed of sale is 7031-019-2, whereas his real TAN is 10-4-223-6.[9] The signature appearing atop the name Rosario Llanes, petitioner’s wife, is not hers, according to petitioner. The questioned instrument was notarized in Cabanatuan City while it is an established fact that both petitioner and his wife reside in Quezon City.

Equally telling is private respondent’s failure to present any evidence, testimonial or otherwise, to buttress her claim that the deed of sale in her favor is valid and genuine, if only to refute petitioner’s testimony that the deed of sale is spurious. She did not submit the original deed of sale for the proper perusal and evaluation of the courts of its contents. In this case, the trial court merely relied on the photocopy of the same (Exhibit "C") taken from the Registry of Deeds of Nueva Ecija.

To refute petitioner’s evidence that the deed of sale is a forgery, private respondent should have presented as evidence the document duly executed or ratified before a notary. To strengthen her case, she could have presented as witnesses (a) the notary public who notarized the questioned instrument to prove that the same was ratified before him by the parties and their witnesses, (b) the witnesses who appear in the instrument as eyewitnesses to the signing thereof, or (c) an expert to prove the authenticity and genuineness of all the signatures appearing on the said instrument.

Furthermore, the questioned deed was supposedly executed in 1979. If it were so, why was it presented for registration only in 1984? If respondent was actually in possession of the land, why did she not present tax declarations in her name to show that fact. While payment of taxes is not proof of ownership, it is at best, an indicum of possession in the concept of ownership.[10] The truth of the matter is that it is petitioner who adduced proof of possession by presenting Tax Declaration No. 5748 (Exh. "G") and Tax Declaration No. 449 (Exh. "G-3") which was cancelled by Tax Declaration No. 5748.

With respect to the decision of the Court of Appeals promulgated on February 26, 1985 in CA-G.R. No. 32537-R, which affirmed the judgment of the Court of First Instance whereby TCT No. NT-21356 covering Lot 1956 was ordered cancelled in favor of a certain Dr. Rosalinda Z. Tiongco, this document was presented by petitioner himself to show that private respondent was not a party to the case. Now, if indeed petitioner was deprived of his title to Lot 1956 by that decision, how could he have validly transferred the property to herein private respondent under the deed of sale which petitioner himself denied having executed? On the other hand, petitioner explained that the decision of the Court of Appeals has never been executed. This explains the fact that petitioner has shown that he has been in possession of the property as evidenced by the declarations and payments of taxes marked as Exhibits "G," "G-1" to "G-3," inclusive.

Given the facts drawn from the evidence, we rule that respondent court committed reversible error in declaring the questioned deed of sale as genuine and valid.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the decision of respondent Court of Appeals is REVERSED and judgment is hereby rendered as follows:

1. Declaring as null and void the deed of absolute sale, purportedly executed by the petitioner Dominador Arambulo in favor of the respondent Flora Flores covering TCT No. NT-21357 dated May 18, 1979 and more known as Doc. No. 178; Page No. 36; Book No. III; Series of 1979 of the notarial register of Victor W. Galang;

2. Ordering the Register of Deeds of the Province of Nueva Ecija to cancel TCT No. NT-187175 in the name of respondent Flora Flores and to issue a new title in favor of petitioner Dominador Arambulo over the disputed parcel of land; and

3. Ordering respondent Flora Flores to surrender for cancellation the second owner’s copy of TCT No. NT-187175 to the Register of Deeds of the Province of Nueva Ecija;

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Romero, and Purisima, JJ., concur.


[1] Rollo, pp. 37-38.

[2] Id., at 40.

[3] Id., at 56

[4] Id., at 16.

[5] Amigo v. Teves, 50 O.G. 5799; Fuentes v. Court of Appeals, 268 SCRA 703 [1997]; Oarde v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 104774-75, October 8, 1997.

[6] Id., at 54.

[7] Id., at 54-55.

[8] See TSN, November 13, 1986, p. 3; Records, p. 149.

[9] See exhibit "C".

[10] Republic v. Court of Appeals, 258 SCRA 223 [1996]; Rivera v. Court of Appeals, 244 SCRA 218 [1995].



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