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G.R. No. 150175. March 10, 2006.

ERLINDA PILAPIL, HEIRS OF DONATA ORTIZ


BRIONES, namely: ESTELA, ERIBERTO AND VIRGILIO
SANTOS, ANA SANTOS CULTURA, ELVIRA SANTOS
INOCENTES,
ERNESTO
MENDOZA,
RIZALINA
SANTOS, ADOLFO MENDOZA and PACITA MENDOZA,
petitioners, vs. HEIRS OF MAXIMINO R. BRIONES,
namely: SILVERIO S. BRIONES, PETRA BRIONES,
BONIFACIO CABAHUG, JR., ANITA TRASMONTE,
CIRILITA
FORTUNA,
CRESENCIA
BRIONES,
FUGURACION MEDALLE and MERCEDES LAGBAS,
respondents.
Civil Law Succession Trusts Article 1451 of the New Civil
Code provides that When land passes by succession to any person
and he causes the legal title to be put in the name of another, a
trust is established by implication of law for the benefit of the true
owner.The RTC in its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, justified its
finding of implied trust on Article 1451 of the New Civil Code,
which provides that, When land passes by succession to any
person and he causes the legal title to be put in the name of
another, a trust is established by implication of law for the benefit
of the true owner. This Court, though, believes that Article 1451
is not applicable to the instant Petition considering that it refers
to a situation wherein the heir himself causes the registration of
his legal title under the name of another the heir, by his
voluntary action, establishes the implied trust and constitutes
himself as the trustee. In contrast, in the Petition herein, Donata
managed to have the real properties belonging to the estate of
Maximino registered under her own name to the supposed
exclusion of all other legal heirs of her deceased husband. In such
a case, implied trust may be more appropriately in accordance
with Article 1456 of the New Civil Code, which declares that, If
the property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person
obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an implied
trust for the benefit of the person from whom the property comes.
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FIRST DIVISION.

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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

Civil Procedure Appeals The rule that findings of fact of the


Court of Appeals and the Regional Trial Courts are binding and
conclusive upon the Supreme Court, is not absolute, and there are
recognized exceptions thereto.While it is true that findings of
fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are binding and
conclusive upon this Court, such is not absolute, and there are
recognized exceptions thereto. This Court justifies its departure
from the general rule and the conduct of its own review of the
evidence and other records in the Petition at bar, given that (1)
the factual conclusions of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are
grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and conjecture (2) the
inference made were manifestly mistaken and (3) the findings of
fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are conclusions without
citation of specific evidence on which they are based.
Civil Law Succession Trusts Fraud In the absence fraud, no
implied trust was established between Donata and the heirs of
Maximino under Article 1456 of the New Civil Code.The heirs of
Maximino failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that
Donata managed, through fraud, to have the real properties,
belonging to the intestate estate of Maximino, registered in her
name. In the absence of fraud, no implied trust was established
between Donata and the heirs of Maximino under Article 1456 of
the New Civil Code. Donata was able to register the real
properties in her name, not through fraud or mistake, but
pursuant to an Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued by the CFI in
Special Proceedings No. 928R. The CFI Order, presumed to be
fairly and regularly issued, declared Donata as the sole, absolute,
and exclusive heir of Maximino hence, making Donata the
singular owner of the entire estate of Maximino, including the
real properties, and not merely a coowner with the other heirs of
her deceased husband. There being no basis for the Complaint of
the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB5794, the same
should have been dismissed.

PETITION for review on certiorari of a decision of the


Court of Appeals.
The facts are stated in the resolution of the Court.
Senining, Belcina, Atup & Entise Law Offices for
petitioners.

310

310

SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

Almase, Suarez and AlmaseMartinez Law Offices


collaborating counsel for petitioners.
Celso C. Reales and Vicente Law Office for
respondents.
CHICONAZARIO, J.:
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari, under Rule 45 of
the Revised Rules of Court, seeking the annulment and the
setting aside of the Decision of the Court of Appeals
in CA
1
G.R. CV No. 55194, dated 31 August 2001, affirming the
decision of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC),
Branch 17, in 2 Civil Case No. CEB5794, dated 28
September 1986.
Petitioners are the heirs of the late Donata Ortiz
Briones (Donata), consisting of her surviving sister,
Rizalina OrtizAguila (Rizalina) Rizalinas daughter,
Erlinda Pilapil (Erlinda) and the other nephews and nieces
of Donata, in representation of her two other sisters who
had also passed away. Respondents, on the other hand, are
the heirs of the late Maximino Briones (Maximino),
composed of his nephews and nieces, and grandnephews
and grandnieces, in representation of the deceased siblings
of Maximino.
The facts that gave rise to the petition at bar are
recounted as follows.
Maximino was married to Donata but their union did
not produce any children. When Maximino died on 1 May
1952, Donata instituted intestate proceedings to settle her
husbands estate with the Cebu City Court of First
Instance (CFI), 14th Judicial District, designated as
Special Proceedings No. 928R. 3On 8 July 1952, the CFI
issued Letters of Administration appointing Donata as the
administratrix of
_______________
1

Penned by Associate Justice Mercedes GozoDadole with Presiding

Justice Ma. Alicia AustriaMartinez and Associate Justice Portia Alio


Hormachuelos Rollo, pp. 2134.
2

Penned by Judge Jose P. Burgos CA Rollo, pp. 99112.

RTC records, p. 8.

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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones


4

Maximinos estate. She submitted an Inventory of


Maximinos properties, which included, among other
things, the following parcels of land
1. Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. RT599,
acquired by Maximino prior
to his marriage (now
5
covered by TCT No. 21546)
2. TCT No. RT600, acquired by Maximino prior
to his
6
marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21545)
3. TCT No. 220, acquired by Maximino during
the
7
marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21543)
4. TCT No. 221, acquired by Maximino during
the
8
marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21544) and
5. TCT No. 702, acquired by Maximino during
the
9
marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21542).
The CFI would subsequently issue an Order, dated 2
October 1952, awarding ownership of the aforementioned
real properties to Donata. On 27 June 1960, Donata had
the said CFI Order recorded
in the Primary Entry Book of
10
the Register of Deeds, and by virtue thereof, received new
TCTs, covering the said properties, now in her name.
Donata died on 1 November 1977. Erlinda, one of
Donatas nieces, instituted with the RTC a petition for the
administration of the intestate estate of Donata. Erlinda
and her husband, Gregorio, were appointed by the RTC as
administrators of Donatas intestate estate. Controversy
arose among Donatas heirs when Erlinda claimed
exclusive ownership of three parcels of land, covered by
TCTs No. 21542, 21545, and 58684, based on two Deeds of
Donation, both dated 15 Sep
_______________
4

Id., pp. 913.

Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit 14, p. 34.

Id., Exhibit 12, p. 32.

Id., Exhibit 8, p. 27.

Id., Exhibit 10, p. 29.

Id., Exhibit 6, p. 25.

10

Id., Exhibit 4, p. 22.

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones
11

tember 1977, allegedly executed in her favor by her aunt


Donata. The other heirs of Donata opposed Erlindas claim.
This Court, however, was no longer informed of the
subsequent development in the intestate proceedings of the
estate of Donata and as far as this Petition is concerned,
all the heirs of Donata, including Erlinda, appear to be on
the same side.
On 21 January 1985, Silverio Briones
(Silverio), a
12
nephew of Maximino, filed13 a Petition with the RTC for
Letters of Administration for the intestate estate of
Maximino, which was initially granted by the RTC. The
RTC also issued an Order, dated 5 December 1985,
allowing Silverio to collect rentals from Maximinos
properties. But then, Gregorio filed with the RTC a Motion
to Set Aside the Order, dated 5 December 1985, claiming
that the said properties were already under his and his
wifes administration
as part of the intestate estate of
14
Donata. Silverios Letters of Administration for the
intestate 15estate of Maximino was subsequently set aside by
the RTC.
On 3 March
1987, the heirs of Maximino filed a
16
Complaint with the RTC against the heirs of Donata for
the partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real
property, docketed as Civil Case
No. CEB5794. They later
17
filed an Amended Complaint, on 11 December 1992. They
alleged that Donata, as administratrix of the estate of
Maximino, through fraud and misrepresentation, in breach
of trust, and without the knowledge of the other heirs,
succeeded in registering in her name the real properties
belonging to the intestate estate of Maximino.
_______________
11

Rollo, pp. 7376.

12

Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit I, pp. 14.

13

Id., Exhibit J, p. 5.

14

Id., Exhibit K, pp. 69.

15

TSN, 22 June 1994, p. 5.

16

RTC Records, pp. 17.

17

Id., pp. 162167.


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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones


18

In their Answer to the Complaint in Civil Case No. CEB


5794, the heirs of Donata raised, as affirmative and special
defenses, the following
1. The complaint does not state a sufficient cause of
action against the defendants
2. That the titles to the lots in question were legally
transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz
Briones since 1952 when the surviving heirs of
Maximino Briones sold their rights over the said
properties to the late Donata Ortiz Briones
3. That even granting arguendo that plaintiffs have
the right to question the transfer to the name of the
late Donata Ortiz Briones the titles of the said lots
any action of that effect has definitely prescribed
for more than 30 years have already occurred when
the titles to said lots were transferred to the name
of the late Donata Ortiz Briones
4. That moreover, even granting arguendo that there
is an implied trust, an implied trust prescribed in
10 years from the day titles to said lots have been
transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz
Briones. Consequently, the plaintiffs action to
enforce an implied trust has definitely prescribed
5. Be that as it may, plaintiffs whose claim is merely
in a representative capacity acquires no better right
or title than that of their predecessorininterest.
After trial in due course, the RTC rendered its Decision,
19
dated 8 April 1986, in favor of the heirs of Maximino,
pertinent portions thereof are reproduced below
When Donata Ortiz Briones filed Special Proceedings No. 928R
she was fully aware of the existence of the hereditary rights of the
brothers and sisters of her husband Maximino S. Briones and
their surviving heirs and it was her duty to have informed the
Court of such fact instead of asking the Court to have her
declared as the sole heir of her deceased husband in the alleged
order mentioned by the defendants which was never presented at
the trial but was made the
_______________
18

Id., pp. 5456.

19

Supra note 2, pp. 107109.

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

basis of the transfer of all the titles of the real properties left
by Maximino S. Briones to the name of Donata Ortiz Briones to
the prejudice of the heirs of the brothers and sisters of Maximino
S. Briones.
xxxx
By having the immovable properties of the deceased Maximino
S. Briones transferred in her name as the sole heir of the said
deceased despite her knowledge of the existence of other coheirs
like the plaintiffs, Donata Ortiz Brioness alleged ownership and
possession of the subject properties in question was that of a
trustee in an implied trust under Article 1451 of the New Civil
Code x x x.
xxxx
In the absence of partition of the estate of Maximino S. Briones
all the properties left upon his death remained owned in common
by his heirs consisting of his surviving spouse and the heirs of his
deceased brothers and sisters the herein plaintiffs. Donata Ortiz
Brioness possession and transfer of the title in her name of her
late husbands properties was no more than that of a coowner
and no prescription shall run in favor of a coowner or coheir
against his coowners or coheirs so long as he expressly or
impliedly recognizes the coownership (Last paragraph, Art. 494,
New Civil Code). Such titles cannot be used as a shield to
perpetrate fraud.
xxxx
Since the inventory filed by Donata Ortiz Briones (Exhibit B)
has been adopted as Exhibit 3 by defendants Erlinda Pilapil, Ri
zalina Ortiz Aguila and the Mendozas, said defendants are bound
by the contents thereof. Defendants, however, failed to show the
order of the Court of First Instance of Cebu dated October 2, 1952
mentioned in the primary entry book (Exhibit 4) and marked as
Exhibit 4C, an omission which amounts to suppression of
evidence which is presumed adverse to the defendants interest
when produced. This supposed declaration of heirs declaring the
late Donata O. Briones as the sole, absolute and exclusive heir of
the late Maximino S. Briones entered in the primary entry book
in the office of the Register of Deeds of Cebu City has been made
thru Donata O. Brioness misrepresentation to the Court as
Administratrix of the estate of her husband Maximino S. Briones
by failing to honestly disclose to the Court that the decedent was
survived not only by his widow but also by his brothers and
sisters and/or their children by right of represen

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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

tation which fact was known to her at the time of her


husbands death.

Hence, the RTC declared that the heirs of Maximino were


entitled to 1/2 of the real properties covered by TCTs No.
21542, 21543, 21544, 21545, 21546, and 58684. It also
ordered Erlinda to reconvey to the heirs of Maximino the
said properties and to render an accounting of the fruits
thereof.
The heirs of Donata appealed the RTC Decision, dated 8
April 1986, to the
Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals,
20
in its Decision, promulgated on 31 August 2001, affirmed
the RTC Decision, ratiocinating thus
The contentions of defendantsappellants are devoid of merit.
At the outset, the proceeding for the issuance of letters of
administration was invalid. Firstly, Donata did not include in her
petition for letters of administration the names, ages and
residences of the heirs as required by Rule 79, Section 2(b) of the
Rules of Court. Secondly, the court failed to give notice to the
known heirs that a petition has been filed, and the time and place
for hearing thereof as provided in Section 3 of the same rule, to
give them ample opportunity to oppose it, if warranted. Thirdly,
the court failed to do its specific duty to require proof, at the
hearing of the petition, that the aforementioned notice has been
given to the heirs in accordance with Section 5 of the same rule.
Consequently, the Order declaring Donata as the sole and
exclusive heir would not be binding against herein plaintiffs
appellees.
xxxx
It should be noted that plaintiffsappellees cause of action was
not based merely on fraud but was primarily anchored on their
right to inheritance and to have a partition of the same, both of
which are imprescriptible as a general rule. With marked
relevance is the fact that their Complaint is for Partition,
Annulment and Recovery of Possession of Real Property.
With respect to the argument on implied trust, We subscribe to
the view that there existed an implied/constructive trust where,
_______________
20

Supra note 1, pp. 2833.

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

through fraudulent representations or by pretending to be the


sole heir of the deceased, an heir succeeded in having the original
title of a land in the name of the deceased cancelled and a new
one issued in his name thereby enabling him to possess the land
and get its produce. [Baysa vs. Baysa, [CA] 53 O.G. 7282, October
1957]
This being so, the trustee may claim title by prescription
founded on adverse possession where it appears that: (a) he has
performed open and unequivocal acts of repudiation amounting to
an ouster of the other coowners (b) such positive acts of
repudiation have been made known to the other coowners and (c)
the evidence thereon should be clear and convincing and (d) the
period fixed by law has prescribed. [De Leon, Partnership, Agency
and Trusts, 4th Edition, 1996]
These conditions were not complied with in the case at bench.
Assuming arguendo that the issuance of the TCT would constitute
an open and clear repudiation of the trust, it is well to note
however that the required period has not yet elapsed. Article 1137
[New Civil Code] provides that, ownership and other real rights
over immovables also prescribe through uninterrupted adverse
possession thereof for thirty years, without need of title or of good
faith. This period should be counted from the date the adverse
title was asserted, that is, from the registration of the title. The
TCTs covering the property in question were registered in 1960 or
27 years at the time of the filing of the Complaint in 1987.
Moreover, there is neither an adverse possession to speak of
since Donata and the Heirs of Briones are deemed coowners of
the property in question in accordance with Article 1078. [New
Civil Code] Hence, mere actual possession by Donata will not give
rise to the inference that the possession was adverse. This is
because Donata after all is entitled to possession of the property
as a coowner.
xxxx
Furthermore, it is a wellentrenched jurisprudential rule that a
coowner may not acquire exclusive ownership of common
property thru prescription. [Castrillo vs. Court of Appeals, L
18046, March 31, 1964, 10 SCRA 549]
xxxx
In determining whether a delay in seeking to enforce a right
constitutes laches, the existence of a confidential relationship
between the parties is an important circumstance for
consideration.
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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

The doctrine of laches is not strictly applied between near


relatives, and the fact that parties are connected by ties of blood
or marriage tends to excuse an otherwise unreasonable delay.
[Gallardo vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 67742, 29
October 1987, 155 SCRA 248]

Unsatisfied with the aforequoted Decision of the Court of


21
Appeals, the heirs of Donata filed the present Petition,
raising the following errors:
I. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN
NOT FINDING THE CASE AS HAVING BEEN
BARRED BY PRESCRIPTION
II. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN
NOT FINDING THE CASE AS HAVING BEEN
BARRED BY LACHES AND
III. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN
RULING THAT ALL THE PROPERTIES,
WHETHER
CAPITAL
PROPERTIES
OF
MAXIMINO OR CONJUGAL PROPERTIES OF
MAXIMINO AND DONATA BRIONES, BE
DIVIDED EQUALLY BETWEEN PETITIONERS
AND RESPONDENTS.
Contrary to the conclusions of the Court of Appeals and the
RTC in their respective Decisions, this Court finds the
Petition at bar meritorious and dismisses the Complaint for
partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real
property filed before the RTC by the heirs of Maximino in
Civil Case No. CEB5794. Not only is the Complaint barred
by prior judgment, the complainants therein, the heirs of
Maximino, failed to satisfactorily establish their right to
the remedies prayed for therein.
Maximino left no will at the time of his death, on 1 May
1952, and his estate was to be settled in accordance with
the rules on legal or intestate succession. The heirs of
Maximino, respondents in the Petition at bar, claimed the
right to inherit, together with Donata, from the estate of
Maximino,
_______________
21

Rollo, p. 11.
318

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

based on the Articles 995 and 1001 of the New Civil Code,
which read
ART. 995. In the absence of legitimate descendants and
ascendants, and illegitimate children and their descendants,
whether legitimate or illegitimate, the surviving spouse shall
inherit the entire estate, without prejudice to the rights of
brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, should there be any,
under article 1001.
ART. 1001. Should brothers and sisters or their children
survive with the widow or widower, the latter shall be entitled to
onehalf of the inheritance and the brothers and sisters or their
children to the other half.

The heirs of Maximino asserted that Donata had


fraudulently excluded them from the intestate proceedings
of the estate of Maximino before the CFI. They were not
given notice of the institution of Special Proceedings No.
928R and the scheduled hearings therein. When Donata
was declared the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of
Maximino in the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, and
when she managed to have the real properties of Maximino
registered in her own name on the basis of the foregoing
CFI Order, she should be deemed to have held the said
properties in trust for her other coheirs.
The RTC in its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, justified its
finding of implied trust on Article 1451 of the New Civil
Code, which provides that, When land passes by
succession to any person and he causes the legal title to be
put in the name of another, a trust is established by
implication of law for the benefit of the true owner. This
Court, though, believes that Article 1451 is not applicable
to the instant Petition considering that it refers to a
situation wherein the heir himself causes the registration
of his legal title under the name of another the heir, by his
voluntary action, establishes the implied trust and
constitutes himself as the trustee. In contrast, in the
Petition herein, Donata managed to have the real
properties belonging to the estate of Maximino registered
under her own name to the supposed exclusion of all other
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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

319

legal heirs of her deceased husband. In such a case, implied


trust may be more appropriately in accordance with Article
1456 of the New Civil Code, which declares that, If the
property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person
obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an
implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the
property comes.
Now the foremost question that needs to be answered is
whether an implied trust under Article 1456 of the New
Civil Code had been sufficiently established in the instant
Petition. This Court answers in the negative.
Since it was the respondents, heirs of Maximino, who
claimed the existence of an implied trust, they bear the
burden of proving that Donata registered in her own name
the real properties belonging to the estate of Maximino
either by fraud or mistake, pursuant to Article 1456 of the
New Civil Code. The heirs of Maximino never contended
that Donata may have registered the real properties in her
name by mistake, but repeatedly maintain that she did so
by fraud. Both the Court of Appeals and the RTC, in their
respective Decisions, found that Donata secured the CFI
Order, dated 02 October 1952, and the new TCTs covering
the real properties in her name fraudulently.
While it is true that findings of fact of the Court of
Appeals and the RTC are binding and conclusive upon this
Court, such is not absolute, and there are recognized
exceptions thereto. This Court justifies its departure from
the general rule and the conduct of its own review of the
evidence and other records in the Petition at bar, given
that (1) the factual conclusions of the Court of Appeals and
the RTC are grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and
conjecture (2) the inference made were manifestly
mistaken and (3) the findings of
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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are conclusions


without
citation of specific evidence on which they are
22
based.
At the onset, it should be emphasized that Donata was
able to secure the TCTs covering the real properties
belonging to the estate of Maximino by virtue of a CFI
Order, dated 2 October 1952. It is undisputed that the said
CFI Order was issued by the CFI in Special Proceedings
No. 928R, instituted by Donata herself, to settle the

intestate estate of Maximino. The petitioners, heirs of


Donata, were unable to present a copy of the CFI Order,
but this is not surprising considering that it was issued 35
years prior to the filing by the heirs of Maximino of their
Complaint in Civil Case No. CEB5794 on 3 March 1987.
The existence of such CFI Order, nonetheless, cannot be
denied. It was recorded in the Primary Entry Book
_______________
22

A comprehensive list of the exceptions to the general rule was

provided by this Court in Baricuatro, Jr. v. Court of Appeals [382 Phil. 15,
2425 325 SCRA 137, 145146 (2000)], which reads
At the outset, it should be noted that the jurisdiction of this Court in a petition for
review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is limited to reviewing
only errors of law. This Court is not a trier of facts. It is a settled doctrine that
findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are binding and conclusive upon this Court.
Such factual findings shall not be disturbed, unless: (1) the conclusion is a finding
grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and conjecture (2) the inference made
is manifestly mistaken (3) there is grave abuse of discretion (4) the judgment is
based on a misapprehension of facts (5) the findings of fact are conflicting (6) the
Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case and its findings are contrary
to the admissions of both appellant and appellees (7) the findings of fact of the
Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court (8) said findings of fact
are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based (9)
the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioners main and reply
briefs are not disputed by the respondents and (10) the findings of fact of the
Court of Appeals are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and
contradicted by the evidence on record. x x x

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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

of the Register of
Deeds on 27 June 1960, at 1:10 p.m., as
23
Entry No. 1714. It was annotated on the TCTs covering
the real properties as having declared Donata the sole,
absolute, and exclusive heir of Maximino. The non
presentation of the actual CFI Order was not fatal to the
cause of the heirs of Donata considering that its
authenticity and contents were never questioned. The
allegation of fraud by the heirs of Maximino did not pertain
to the CFI Order, but to the manner or procedure by which
it was issued in favor of Donata. Moreover, the non
presentation of the CFI Order, contrary to the declaration
by the RTC, does not amount to a willful suppression of

evidence that would give rise to the presumption that


it
24
would be adverse to the heirs of Donata if produced. As
this Court
already expounded in the case of People v.
25
Jumamoy
x x x We reiterate the rule that the adverse presumption from a
suppression of evidence is not applicable when (1) the suppression
is not willful (2) the evidence suppressed or withheld is merely
corroborative or cumulative (3) the evidence is at the disposal
of both parties and (4) the suppression is an exercise of a
privilege. Moreover, if the accused believed that the failure to
present the other witnesses was because their testimonies would
be unfavorable to the prosecution, he should have compelled their
appearance, by compulsory process, to testify as his own
witnesses or even as hostile witnesses.

If there is indeed a surviving copy of the CFI Order, dated


2 October 1952, then there is no reason to believe that it
would be exclusively available only to the heirs of Donata
and not to the heirs of Maximino. It is important to note
that two of the
_______________
23

Rule 130, Section 44 of the REVISED RULES OF COURT provides

that: Entries in official records made in the performance of his duty by a


public officer of the Philippines, or by a person in the performance of a
duty specially enjoined by law, are prima facie evidence of the facts
therein stated.
24

REVISED RULES OF COURT, Rule 131, Section 3(e).

25

G.R. No. 101584, 7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 333, 344345.


322

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

documents relating to Special Proceedings No. 928R,


namely, (1) the Letters of Administration issued in favor of
Donata by the CFI, and (2) the Inventory submitted by
Donata to the CFI, were actually produced before the RTC
in Civil Case No. CEB5794 by the heirs of Maximino. It
only goes to show that the heirs of Maximino did have
access to the records of Special Proceedings No. 928R in
which the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, was issued. If
there was still a copy of the CFI Order, dated 2 October
1952, in the records of Special Proceedings No. 928R, and
the contents of such Order were truly adverse to the heirs

of Donata, then it would have been more compelling for the


heirs of Maximino to present it before the RTC in Civil
Case No. CEB5794, with the aid of the appropriate court
processes if necessary.
The CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued in Special
Proceedings No. 928R, effectively settled the intestate
estate of Maximino by declaring Donata as the sole,
absolute, and exclusive heir of her deceased husband. The
issuance by the CFI of the said Order, as well as its
conduct of the entire Special Proceedings No. 928R, enjoy
the presumption of validity pursuant to the Section 3(m)
and (n) of Rule 131 of the Revised Rules of Court,
reproduced below
SEC. 3. Disputable presumptions.The following presumptions
are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and
overcome by other evidence:
xxxx
(m) That official duty has been regularly performed
(n) That a court, or judge acting as such, whether in the
Philippines or elsewhere, was acting in the lawful exercise of
jurisdiction.

By reason of the foregoing provisions, this Court must


presume, in the absence of any clear and convincing proof
to the contrary, that the CFI in Special Proceedings No.
928R had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the
parties, and to have
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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones


26

rendered a judgment valid in every respect and it could


not give credence to the following
statements made by the
27
Court of Appeals in its Decision
At the outset, the proceeding for the issuance of letters of
administration was invalid. Firstly, Donata did not include in her
petition for letters of administration the names, ages and
residences of the heirs as required by Rule 79, Section 2(b) of the
Rules of Court. Secondly, the court failed to give notice to the
known heirs that a petition has been filed, and the time and place
for hearing thereof as provided in Section 3 of the same rule, to
give them ample opportunity to oppose it, if warranted. Thirdly,
the court failed to do its specific duty to require proof, at the
hearing of the petition, that the aforementioned notice has been
given to the heirs in accordance with Section 5 of the same rule.

There was totally no evidentiary basis for the foregoing


pronouncements. First of all, the Petition filed by Donata
for Letters of Administration in Special Proceedings No.
928R before the CFI was not even referred to nor
presented during the course of the trial of Civil Case No.
CEB5794 before the RTC. How then could the Court of
Appeals make a finding that Donata willfully excluded
from the said Petition the names, ages, and residences of
the other heirs of Maximino? Second, there was also no
evidence showing that the CFI actually failed to send
notices of Special Proceedings No. 928R to the heirs of
Maximino or that it did not require presentation of proof of
service of such notices. It should be remembered that there
stands a presumption that the CFI Judge had regularly
performed his duties in Special Proceedings No. 928R,
which included sending out of notices and requiring the
presentation of proof of service of such notices and, the
heirs of Maximino did not propound sufficient evidence to
debunk such presumption. They only made a general
denial of knowledge of Special Proceedings No. 928R, at
least until
_______________
26

REMEDIAL LAW, Vol. IV, Oscar M. Herrera, p. 85 (1999).

27

Supra note 1, p. 28.


324

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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

1985. There was no testimony or document presented in


which the heirs of Maximino categorically denied receipt of
notice from the CFI of the pendency of Special Proceedings
No. 928R. The only evidence on record in reference to the
absence of notice of such 28
proceedings was the testimony of
Aurelia Briones (Aurelia), one of the heirs of Maximino, to
wit
Q When the husband of defendant Erlinda Pilapil was
presented before this Court he testified that when the
late Donata Ortiz filed a petition to be declared sole heir
according to him the brothers and sisters of the late
Maximino Briones were notified of the said hearing.
What can you say about this, Ms. Witness?
A No, I dont think they were notified. They would have
contested their right to inherit their brothers property

because he had no issue with his wife.


Q Likewise the same witness testified that at the time the
petition was granted there was no opposition from the
heirs. What can you say about this, Ms. Witness?
A I dont think they were notified because I know they will
contest that declaration.

Aurelias testimony deserves scant credit considering that


she was not testifying on matters within her personal
knowledge. The phrase I dont think is a clear indication
that she is merely voicing out her opinion on how she
believed her uncles and aunts would have acted had they
received notice of Special Proceedings No. 928R.
In further support of their contention of fraud by
Donata, the heirs of Maximino even emphasized that
Donata lived along the same street as some of the siblings
of Maximino and, yet, she failed to inform them of the CFI
Order, dated 2 October 1952, in Special Proceedings No.
928R, and the issuance in her name of new TCTs covering
the real properties which belonged to the estate of
Maximino. This Court, how
_______________
28

TSN, 21 September 1995, pp. 23.


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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

ever, appreciates such information differently. It actually


works against the heirs of Maximino. Since they only lived
nearby, Maximinos siblings had ample opportunity to
inquire or discuss with Donata the status of the estate of
their deceased brother. Some of the real properties, which
belonged to the estate of Maximino, were also located
within the same area as their residences in Cebu City, and
Maximinos siblings could have regularly observed the
actions and behavior of Donata with regard to the said real
properties. It is uncontested that from the time of
Maximinos death on 1 May 1952, Donata had possession of
the real properties. She managed the real properties and
even collected rental fees on some of them until her own
death on 1 November 1977. After Donatas death, Erlinda
took possession of the real properties, and continued to
manage the same and collect the rental fees thereon.

Donata and, subsequently, Erlinda, were so obviously


exercising rights of ownership over the real properties, in
exclusion of all others, which must have already put the
heirs of Maximino on guard if they truly believed that they
still had rights thereto.
The heirs of Maximino knew he died on 1 May 1952.
They even attended his wake. They did not offer any
explanation as to why they had waited 33 years from
Maximinos death before one of them, Silverio, filed a
Petition for Letters of Administration for the intestate
estate of Maximino on 21 January 1985. After learning that
the intestate estate of Maximino was already settled in
Special Proceedings No. 928R, they waited another two
years, before instituting, on 3 March 1987, Civil Case No.
CEB5794, the Complaint for partition, annulment and
recovery of the real property belonging to the estate of
Maximino. The heirs of Maximino put off acting on their
rights to the estate of Maximino for so long that when they
finally did, attributing fraud to Maximinos wife, Donata,
the latter had already passed away, on 1 November 1977,
and was no longer around to explain and defend herself.
The delay
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SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

of the heirs of Maximino is not without


consequence, as
29
this Court explained in Ramos v. Ramos
Parenthetically, it may be noted that the filing of the instant case
long after the death of Jose Ramos and other persons involved in
the intestate proceeding renders it difficult to determine with
certitude whether the plaintiffs had really been defrauded
What Justice Street said in Sinco vs. Longa, 51 Phil. 507, 5189
is relevant to this case:
In passing upon controversies of this character experience
teaches the danger of accepting lightly charges of fraud made
many years after the transaction in question was accomplished,
when death may have sealed the lips of the principal actors and
changes effected by time may have given a totally different color to
the cause of controversy. In the case before us the guardian, Emilio
Tevez, is dead. The same is true of Trinidad Diago, mother of the
defendant Agueda Longa while Agapito Longa is now living in Spain. It
will be borne in mind also that, insofar as oral proof is concerned, the
charge of fraud rests principally on the testimony of a single witness who,

if fraud was committed, was a participant therein and who naturally


would now be anxious, so far as practicable, to put the blame on others.
In this connection it is well to bear in mind the following impressive
language of Mr. Justice Story:
x x x But length of time necessarily obscures all human
evidence and as it thus removes from the parties all the
immediate means to verify the nature of the original transactions,
it operates by way of presumption, in favor of innocence, and
against imputation of fraud. It would be unreasonable, after a great
length of time, to require exact proof of all the minute circumstances of
any transaction, or to expect a satisfactory explanation of every difficulty,
real or apparent, with which it may be encumbered. The most that can
fairly be expected, in such cases, if the parties are living, from the frailty
of memory, and human infirmity, is, that the material facts can be given
with certainty to a common intent and, if the parties are dead, and the
cases rest in
_______________
29

G.R. No. L19872, 3 December 1974, 61 SCRA 284, 304305.

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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones


confidence, and in parol agreements, the most that we can hope is to
arrive at probable conjectures, and to substitute general presumptions of
law, for exact knowledge. Fraud, or breach of trust, ought not lightly
to be imputed to the living for, the legal presumption is the other
way as to the dead, who are not here to answer for themselves, it
would be the height of injustice and cruelty, to disturb their ashes,
and violate the sanctity of the grave, unless the evidence of fraud
be clear, beyond a reasonable doubt (Prevost vs. Gratz, 6 Wheat.
[U.S.], 481, 498).

It is granted that the heirs of Maximino had rights to his


intestate estate upon his death on 1 May 1952, by virtue of
Articles 995 and 1005 of the New Civil Code. Nonetheless,
the CFI, in Special Proceedings No. 928R, had declared
Donata as the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of
Maximino in its Order, dated 2 October 1952. This Court,
in the absence of evidence to the contrary, can only
presume that Special Proceedings No. 928R was fair and
regular, which would consequently mean that the CFI
complied with the procedural requirements for intestate
proceedings such as publication and notice to interested
parties, and that the CFI had carefully reviewed and
studied the claims of creditors, as well as the rights of heirs

to the estate, before issuing the Order, dated 2 October


1952. There is no showing that the Order, dated 2 October
1952, had been appealed and had, therefore, long attained
finality, which even this Court would be bound to respect.
Without doubt, if the action for partition, annulment, and
recovery of possession instituted by the heirs of Maximino
in Civil Case No. CEB5794 succeeds, then, it would be a
circumvention of the finality of the CFI Order, dated 2
October 1952, in Special Proceedings No. 928R, because,
necessarily, a recognition of the rights of the other heirs to
the estate of Maximino would violate the sole, absolute,
and exclusive right of Donata to the same estate previ
328

328

SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

ously determined by30 the CFI. As this Court had discussed


in Ramos v. Ortuzar
If we are to assume that Richard Hill and Marvin Hill did not
formally intervene, still they would be concluded by the result of
the proceedings, not only as to their civil status but as the
distribution of the estate as well. As this Court has held in
Manolo vs. Paredes, 47 Phil. 938, The proceeding for probate
is one in rem (40 Cyc., 1265) and the court acquires
jurisdiction over all persons interested, through the
publication of the notice prescribed by sec. 630 C. P. C. and
any order that may be entered therein is binding against
all of them. (See also In re Estate of Johnson, 39 Phil. 156) A
final order of distribution of the estate of a deceased person vests
the title to the land of the estate in the distributees. (Santos vs.
Roman Catholic Bishop of Nueva Caceres, 45 Phil. 895) There is
no reason why, by analogy, these salutory doctrines should
not apply to intestate proceedings.
The only instance that we can think of in which a party
interested in a probate proceeding may have a final liquidation
set aside is when he is left out by reason of circumstances beyond
his control or through mistake or inadvertence not imputable to
negligence. Even then, the better practice to secure relief is
reopening of the same case by proper motion within the
reglementary period, instead of an independent action the
effect of which, if successful, would be, as in the instant
case, for another court or judge to throw out a decision or
order already final and executed and reshuffle properties
long ago distributed and disposed of.

In summary, the heirs of Maximino failed to prove by clear


and convincing evidence that Donata managed, through
fraud, to have the real properties, belonging to the
intestate estate of Maximino, registered in her name. In
the absence of fraud, no implied trust was established
between Donata and the heirs of Maximino under Article
1456 of the New Civil Code. Donata was able to register the
real properties in her name, not through fraud or mistake,
but pursuant to an Or
_______________
30

89 Phil. 730, 741742 (1951).


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Pilapil vs. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones

der, dated 2 October 1952, issued by the CFI in Special


Proceedings No. 928R. The CFI Order, presumed to be
fairly and regularly issued, declared Donata as the sole,
absolute, and exclusive heir of Maximino hence, making
Donata the singular owner of the entire estate of
Maximino, including the real properties, and not merely a
coowner with the other heirs of her deceased husband.
There being no basis for the Complaint of the heirs of
Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB5794, the same should
have been dismissed.
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the assailed Decision
of the Court of Appeals in CAG.R. CV No. 55194, dated 31
August 2001, affirming the Decision of the Cebu City RTC
in Civil Case No. CEB5794, dated 28 September 1986, is
hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the Complaint
for partition, annulment, and recovery of possession filed
by the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB5794 is
hereby DISMISSED.
SO ORDERED.
Panganiban (C.J., Chairperson), YnaresSantiago
and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
AustriaMartinez, J., No part.
Assailed decision reversed and set aside, complaint
dismissed.
Notes.If property is acquired through mistake or
fraud, the person obtaining it is considered a trustee of an

implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the
property comes. (Noel vs. Court of Appeals, 240 SCRA 78
[1995])
An action for reconveyance based upon an implied trust
pursuant to Article 1456 of the Civil Code prescribes in ten
years from the registration of the deed or from the issuance
of the title. (Heirs of Joaquin Teves vs. Court of Appeals,
316 SCRA 632 [1995])
o0o
330

330

SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED


Olbes vs. China Banking Corporation

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