Civil Law, Remedial Law

HEIRS OF ALFREDO CULLADO v. GUTIERREZ G.R. No. 212938, July 30, 2019 J. Caguioa, Accion Publiciana, Torrens Title

FACTS:

Katibayan ng Orihinal na Titulo Blg. [(OCT No.)] P-61499 covering the subject property was issued in Dominic Gutierrez’s favor.

Subsequently, [Dominic]’s father, Dominador L. Gutierrez, representing [Dominic] who was then still a minor, filed before the RTC an action for recovery of ownership, possession with damages with prayer for preliminary mandatory injunction and temporary restraining order against Alfredo Cullado, alleging that Cullado had been squatting on the parcel of land as early as 1977, and that despite repeated demands, Cullado refused to vacate the said lot.

Cullado, in his Answer with Motion to Dismiss, interposed the special and affirmative defenses of his actual possession and cultivation of the subject parcel of land in an open, adverse and continuous manner. He likewise asked for the reconveyance of the property, considering that [Dominic] and his father fraudulently had the subject property titled in [Dominic]’s name. 

Cullado died during the course of the trial and was substituted by his heirs.

Dominic’s counsel repeatedly failed to attend the scheduled hearings, and as a consequence, [the heirs of Cullado] were eventually allowed to present their evidence after [Dominic] was deemed to have waived his right to cross-examine [the] witness [ of the heirs of Cullado].

The RTC rendered [a] Decision Ordering the dismissal of the complaint and Ordering  Dominic Gutierrez to reconvey in favor of the Heirs of Alfredo C[u]llado the land covered and embraced by Katibayan ng Orihinal na Titulo Blg. P- 61499.

Dominic filed a Petition for Relief from Judgment wherein he alleged, among others, that his counsel’s negligence in handling his case prevented him from participating therein and from filing his appeal. However, the same was denied by the R TC for having been filed out of time.

Dominic filed with the CA a petition for annulment of judgment on the ground of extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction. The same, upon Dominic’s motion for reconsideration, was given due course and granted by the CA. 

The CA ruled that the court a quo had no jurisdiction to resolve the twin issues of reconveyance and fraudulence raised by [the heirs of Cullado]. It held that the affirmative defense raised by the heirs of Cullado constitute a collateral attack against [Dominic]’s title, which cannot be allowed in an accion publiciana

The CA denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the heirs of Cullado.

Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

ISSUE:

Whether the RTC has jurisdiction over petitioners’ counterclaims where the complaint involves an accion publiciana.

RULNG:

It is observed that the Court has recognized two approaches in dealing with the claim of ownership raised in the defendant’s answer in an accion publiciana, namely: 

(1) to allow the provisional resolution of the issue of ownership to determine the “better right of possession,” or 

(2) not to allow its resolution because the accion publiciana court is bereft of jurisdiction to rule with finality on the issue of ownership and the attack on a certificate of title is deemed a collateral one that is therefore proscribed.

While the CA took the second or “collateral attack” approach, and not the first or “provisional determination of ownership” approach, it was correct in reversing and setting aside the RTC Decision. 

Accordingly, the heirs of Cullado and all persons claiming under them should be ordered to vacate and surrender the land subject matter of the case to Dominic.

It is settled that in an action for reconveyance or accion reivindicatoria, the free patent and the Torrens or certificate of title are respected as incontrovertible xxx

Indeed, the bedrock of the Torrens system is the indefeasibility and incontrovertibility of a land title where there can be full faith reliance thereon. Verily, the Government has adopted the Torrens system due to its being the most effective measure to guarantee the integrity of land titles and to protect their indefeasibility once the claim of ownership is established and recognized.

To the registered owner, the Torrens system gives him complete peace of mind, in order that he will be secured in his ownership as long as he has not voluntarily disposed of any right over the covered land.

On the part of a person transacting with a registered land, like a purchaser, he can rely on the registered owner’s title and he should not run the risk of being told later that his acquisition or transaction was ineffectual after all, which will not only be unfair to him, but will also erode public confidence in the system and will force land transactions to be attended by complicated and not necessarily conclusive investigations and proof of ownership.

Since the special and affirmative defenses raised by the heirs of Cullado in the Answer pertain to discrepancies or errors in Dominic’s certificate of title, which necessarily entails a review of the decree made in Dominic’s favor, the RTC was bereft of any jurisdiction to rule on such defenses in an action for recovery of possession or accion publiciana initiated by the registered owner.

The RTC even ruled on the issue of the nullity of Dominic’s certificate of title on the ground of his minority at the time of the issuance of the free patent in his favor – an issue that clearly involved a collateral attack on Dominic’s Torrens title, which “is beyond the province of this proceeding and not within the jurisdiction of [the trial c]ourt.”

Petition is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. 

The petitioners, the heirs of Alfredo Cullado, and all persons claiming under them are ORDERED to vacate and surrender the land covered by Original Certificate of Title No. P-61499 to its registered owner, respondent Dominic V. Gutierrez.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.