Sleeping in their rights

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

Rights of action and rights of ownership may be lost through lapse of time either by laches or prescription. This case explains the difference between laches and prescription.

This case involves a 7,275-square meter parcel of land situated in a Central Luzon province owned by spouses Andy and Annie with an Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 8705 (subject land). Andy and Annie have three children, Dino, Tita and Mila.

When Dino got married about 50 years ago, his parents Andy and Annie donated to him three parcels of land, including the subject land and a carabao in celebration of his marriage to Tessie by executing a Donation propter nuptias (Inventario Matrimonio). In order to prove their acceptance of the donation, Dino and Tessie signed a receipt and gave it to their father Andy. Immediately thereafter, they occupied and took possession of the subject land as the owner thereof.

About 52 years later when Dino and his parents Andy and Annie were already dead, the children of Tita and Mila presented a Deed of Succession and Adjudication stating that the subject land was subdivided into three lots and adjudicated to them in equal shares using a reconstituted copy of the OCT 8705, which was allegedly lost.

This prompted the heirs of Dino to file a Complaint for Quieting of Title, Declaration of Nullity of Document and surrender of the Title. They claimed ownership of subject land by virtue of the donation executed by Andy and Annie when Dino got married. So the Deed of Adjudication is null and void. In fact, even the signature of Andy therein is a forgery as he was already dead when it was executed. Even the thumbmark of Dino appearing on the Deed was spurious, as he never appeared before a notary.

The heirs of Tita and Mila, on the other hand, claimed that the donation was void for there was no valid acceptance. On the other hand, the Deed of Adjudication was duly executed and notarized. Dino’s wife Tessie was even present when Dino signed it and did not raise any objection, they claimed.

In their reply, the heirs of Dino countered that the donation is valid even if there was no acceptance since Dino was only 17 years old at that time. Besides, the heirs of Tita and Mila only contested the donation 50 years after its execution. Thus, their claim had already been barred by prescription.

The RTC found the donation is really void for lack of notarization. It likewise ruled that the heirs of Dino had already acquired ownership through acquisitive prescription. Further, the RTC ruled that laches has already set in because the heirs of Tita and Mila failed to assail the validity of the donation. Neither did they assert their successional rights over the subject land. This decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Were the RTC and the CA, correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said yes. According to the SC, while the Deed of Donation is really void as it is not in a public instrument, it can still serve as a legal basis of adverse possession. A private document of donation can be the basis of a claim of ownership if there is a clear and convincing evidence of possession, like in the instant case. However, the possession of subject land had ripened into ownership by the heirs of Dino not because of acquisitive prescription but only because of laches.

Laches is the failure or neglect for an unreasonable or unexplained length of time to do that which could or should have been done earlier by exercising due diligence. Such failure or neglect warrants a presumption that he has abandoned his right or declined to assert it.

Prescription, on the other hand, refers to the failure or delay to assert a claim within the period prescribed by law. Likewise, rights and action are lost on the same ground.

The possession of Dino, Tessie and their children had ripened into ownership by reason of laches. The doctrine of laches, also known as a stale demand, is based on public policy, which requires, for the peace of society, the discouragement of stale claims. It is not a mere question of time, but is principally a question of the inequity and unfairness of permitting a stale right or claim to be enforced if asserted. Truly, the law serves those who are vigilant and diligent, not those who sleep when the law requires them to act. Laws must come to the assistance of the vigilant, not of the sleepy.

The Deed of Adjudication and Succession is likewise null and void since it was executed at the time when the heirs of Dino had already acquired ownership of the subject land. So, the decision of the CA affirming the decision of the RTC is affirmed (Heirs of Lorenzo et.al. vs. Heirs of Eustaquio etc, G.R. 209435, Aug. 10, 2022).

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