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Intertwining issues

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2021 - 12:00am

In ejectment or forcible entry cases, the only issue to be resolved is the physical (possession de facto) and not the title of real property (possession de jure). But where both parties claim ownership, the court may pass upon such issue in the ejectment suit to determine who between them has the better right to possess the property. This is illustrated in this case for today.

This case involves a sea-side property with an area of 109 square meters registered in the name of Andy and Lucy covered by TCT No. 135910. Andy and Lucy’s marriage was, however, declared void because of Andy’s previous marriage to another woman. So Lucy went to the United States and worked there. But when she came home one time for a vacation, she was surprised that their property which was vacant when she left for the United States was now occupied by persons unknown to her.

Upon inquiry the occupants informed her that they were lessees paying rentals to Ernie, the nephew of Ester who supposedly owns the property. She thus met Ernie who confirmed that he managed the property for his Aunt Ester. Lucy then told him that she is the owner of the property and not his aunt. So Ester and Ernie voluntarily turned over the property to Lucy who took possession thereof and designated her sister Chary to be the property administrator. She likewise made arrangement with the lessees to pay the rentals to Chary. Thus she changed the locks of the gate of subject property.

After about three weeks of peacefully possessing the property, when Lucy was back in the US, Chary informed her that their tenants were not allowed to enter the subject property; that Ester and Ernie entered the premises by destroying the lock using bolt cutter; and that they changed the locks, prohibited the lessees from entering the premises and posted a “for rent” sign.

Chary immediately reported the incident to the barangay. Then, Lucy’s counsel sent a demand letter to Ernie and Ester for them to vacate the property. When they refused to leave, Lucy filed a complaint for Ejectment and Damages against Ester and Ernie before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC).

In their answer, Ester and Ernie averred that the complaint is without legal basis and should be dismissed out-right as Lucy is not the real party in interest because she was not the owner of the subject property. They likewise insisted that although Lucy was described in the title as the wife of Andy the registered owner, their marriage was later nullified for being bigamous. Moreover, they claimed that Andy already executed in their favor an Affidavit of Acceptance for the foreclosure of the subject property which was mortgaged, wherein Andy declared that Ester is the new owner thereof. Thus Ester and Ernie contended that they have the right to enter the property and use it in accordance with their will.

After trial, the MeTC rendered judgment in favor of Lucy and against Ernie and Ester, ordering them to vacate the property and pay damages, attorney’s fees and cost of suit. On appeal to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) said decision was affirmed. The RTC ruled on the issue of ownership and declared that Lucy is a co-owner thereof as it was acquired during the subsistence of her marriage to Andy and that Andy cannot sell it without her consent. The RTC also declared that the Affidavit of Acceptance for the Foreclosure of the Mortgaged Property is not proof that Andy mortgaged it or transferred its ownership.

On further appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA), the RTC decision was reversed and set aside and declared of no effect without prejudice to the institution by the parties of the proper action before the court of competent jurisdiction to ventilate and resolve with conclusiveness their conflicting claims of ownership over the property. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said no. The SC said that the ejectment suit is not proper in view of the contrasting claims of ownership by both parties and the question of possession is intertwined with the issue of ownership.

While it is true that Ester and her nephew Ernie have occupied the property, it was without the knowledge of Lucy. In fact they voluntarily left the premises after they learned of Lucy’s ownership upon her return from the US. So Lucy was already in peaceful occupation of the subject property and was leasing it to tenants when Ester and Ernie forcibly entered it by using a bolt cutter, evicted the tenants therein, changed the padlocks and placed a “for rent” sign in front. These were acts that prompted Lucy to file a forcible entry case.

Even assuming that Ester and her nephew Ernie are the real owners, they had no right to take the law into their hands and forcibly eject Lucy’s tenants from subject property. They are indeed liable for forcible entry since Lucy was already in possession thereof. So the decision of the MeTC as sustained by the RTC should be reinstated (Esperal vs Esperal and Biaoco. G.R. 229076, Sept. 16, 2020).

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Email: js0711192@gmail.com

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