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Opinion

Question of law

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

This is another case involving a property inherited by the surviving wife and her alleged brother in-law. The questions resolved here are: Who has the burden of proof in establishing such a relationship? And what kind of proof is necessary to discharge such burden?

This case involved a parcel of land with an area of 350 square meters covered by a Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) situated in a suburban city. It is registered in the name Bella, who inherited it from her deceased husband, Romy. The subject property was originally owned by the parents of Romy, June and Mila, who also begot two other children who executed a Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement of the estate of their parents, wherein the subject property was adjudicated in favor of Romy, Bella’s husband.

When Romy died, Bella executed an Affidavit of Self Adjudication adjudicating unto herself the subject property. So a new title was issued in the name of Bella. When Romy’s brother Diego learned about said affidavit, he filed, among others, a complaint against Bella for cancellation of said title and re-conveyance of one-half of subject property to him, plus attorney’s fees and cost of suit.

Diego alleged that the Affidavit of Self Adjudication was totally false because at the time of Romy’s demise, he was survived not only by his wife Bella, but also by him and sister Linda as collateral relatives.

Diego also alleged that Linda already executed a Deed of Waiver of Rights wherein she relinquished in his favor all her rights and participation over said property. So, Diego claimed he is now entitled to one-half thereof.

For her part, Bella claimed that the subject property is her exclusive property since she purchased the same with her own money. She also claimed that Diego is not a legitimate brother of her late husband Romy. So Bella also filed a compulsory counter-claim for damages against Diego for filing a baseless and malicious action against her.

After trial, where the parties presented their own witnesses to prove their allegations, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) ruled in favor of Bella and ordered Diego to pay exemplary damages, attorney’s fees and cost of suit.

The RTC ruled that the Extrajudicial Settlement of the Estate of Romy’s parents does not suffice to support Diego’s claim that he is the brother of Romy. This ruling was sustained by the Court of Appeals (CA), except the award of exemplary damages for lack of basis.

On appeal by Diego to the Supreme Court, the decision of the CA was affirmed. The SC said that the arguments of Diego essentially raise questions of fact, which are not proper subject of an appeal by Certiorari because the factual findings of the appellate court are considered final, binding or conclusive on the parties and on this court, especially when supported by substantial evidence. A question of law arises when there is doubt as to what the law is on the truth or falsity of the alleged facts.

In civil cases, the burden of proof rest upon the plaintiff, who is required to establish his/her case by a preponderance of evidence. Preponderance of evidence is defined as the weight, credit and value of the aggregate evidence on their side and is synonymous with “greater weight of credible evidence.” It is evidence that is more convincing to the court as it is worthier of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto.

Thus, it is incumbent upon Diego to prove that he is the brother of Romy, the decedent. Unfortunately, Diego failed to overcome this burden. The record is bereft of any submitted documents, such as birth certificates duly showing that he and Romy have the same mother, father or both.

Hence the decision of the CA partially dismissing Diego’s appeal is affirmed without prejudice to the filing before the appropriate court of an intestate proceeding for the purpose of determining the heirs who may be entitled to inherit the estate of Romy’s parents. The award of exemplary damages is deleted (Caranto vs. Caranto, G.R. 202889, March 2, 2020).

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