Late move
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

An action for unlawful detainer is an action to recover possession of real property from one who unlawfully withholds possession after expiration or termination of his right to possess it under any contract, express or implied. The sole issue here is physical or material possession of the property involved, independent of any claim of ownership by any of the parties. When the defendant, however, raises the defense of ownership and the question of possession cannot be resolved without resolving the issue of ownership, said issue must also be resolved, but only to determine the issue of possession. This action for unlawful detainer must be filed within one year or else it will be dismissed. This is illustrated in this case filed by Amanda against Marta and her children with her deceased husband Alex.

Amanda is married to Andy and is the sister of Alex, the deceased husband of Marta. She is the registered owner of a house and lot located in Manila. Out of compassion for her sister-in-law Marta and Alex her deceased brother, Amanda and her husband Andy allowed Marta and her children to stay in the property. However, in 2003 Marta and Andy found the need to utilize the said property and carry out their plan to distribute the same to their children. They also learned that Marta and her children are financially able to rent their own place and in fact have acquired several residential properties and vehicles.

So they demanded Marta and her children to vacate the premises. But the latter refused and even filed a case questioning Amanda’s ownership of said property, contending that they are in fact co-owners and that Amanda obtained title over the disputed property through fraud, deceit and falsification. Thus on March 22, 2006, Amanda sent a formal letter of demand to Marta and her children to vacate the disputed premises but this remained unheeded.

So Amanda sent another letter on Aug. 14, 2007 asking them to leave and to pay reasonable rent, but to no avail. Hence on March 14, 2008 Amanda filed before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) an unlawful detainer case against Marta and her children with her late husband Alex and all persons claiming under them.

On Aug. 20, 2010, the MeTC rendered a decision in favor of Amanda ordering Marta and her children to immediately vacate the premises and surrender its physical possession and to pay rental of P10,000 per month until they vacate the premises. It also made a provisional determination that Amanda owns the subject lot and thus is entitled to its possession.

On appeal to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) by Marta et. al., said decision of the MeTC was set aside and the case dismissed on the ground that the complaint for unlawful detainer was filed beyond the one-year period after such unlawful deprivation or withholding of possession fixed by the Rules of Court (Section 1, Rule 70), although Amanda really has the right to possess the property, being the owner thereof. She should have filed an action to recover possession as owner of the property before the Regional Trial Court.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the RTC ruling that Amanda’s complaint was filed beyond the one-year period which is reckoned from her initial demand dated March 22, 2006 and not the latest demand letter dated Aug. 14, 2007 which was a mere reminder or reiteration of the original demand and thus does not operate to renew the one-year period within which to file the ejectment suit.

In a Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by Amanda, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the CA decision. The SC said that subsequent demands that are merely in the nature of reminders of the first or original demand do not operate to renew the one-year period within which to commence an ejectment suit, considering that the period will still be reckoned from the date of the original demand. But all is not lost for Amanda. The SC said that since the RTC upheld the provisional finding of the MeTC regarding Amanda’s ownership of the subject property, she can still opt to file another action to recover possession of said property in the proper court, taking into consideration the assessed value of the lot and the fact that dispossession has lasted for more than one year (Rivera-Avante vs. Rivera and their heirs with the late Alejandro Rivera, G.R. 224137, April 3. 2019).

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