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SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 134718. August 20, 2001]

HEIRS OF ROMANA INGJUG-TIRO: BEDESA, PEDRO, RITA all


surnamed TIRO, and BARBARA TIRO (deceased) represented by
NORMA SARAMOSING;HEIRS OF FRANCISCO INGJUG:
LEONARDO, LILIA, FERNANDA, ZENAIDA, PACITA and
ANTONIO, all surnamed INGJUG; and HEIRS OF FRANCISCA
INGJUG-FUENTES: ULDARICO and GUILLERMA, all surnamed
FUENTES, and PAULINA INGJUG-FUENTES (deceased) represented
by VICTOR, ELENA, SERGIA and DESIDERIO, all surnamed
MUEZ, petitioners, vs. SPOUSES LEON V. CASALS and LILIA C.
CASALS, SPOUSES CARLOS L. CLIMACO and LYDIA R.
CLIMACO, SPOUSES JOSE L. CLIMACO, JR. and BLANQUITA C.
CLIMACO, and CONSUELO L. CLIMACO, respondents.
DECISION
BELLOSILLO, J.:

A 5,354-square meter parcel of land is at the epicentrum of the controversy. Originally titled
in the name of Mamerto Ingjug, the property is located in the former Municipality of Opon,
Province of Cebu (now Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu City). The claimants are the descendants of
Mamerto Ingjug on one hand who allege that they have been deprived of their successional rights
through fraud and misrepresentation, and a group of vendees on the other hand claiming to have
acquired the property for value and in good faith. The case filed by the descendants of Mamerto
Ingjug was dismissed by the trial court on the ground of prescription and laches. The dismissal
was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The affirmance by the appellate court is now assailed in
this petition for review.
During the Second World War, or some sixty (60) years ago, Mamerto Ingjug died leaving
behind the subject parcel of land covered by Original Certificate of Title No. RO-0376 in his
name as owner in fee simple. Upon his death title thereto devolved upon his five (5) children,
namely, Romana, Francisco, Francisca, Luisa and Maria, all surnamed Ingjug. On 9 July 1965,
or more than two (2) decades later, Luisa, Maria, one Eufemio Ingjug, and Guillerma Ingjug
Fuentes-Pagubo, daughter of Francisca, sold the disputed land to herein respondents, the spouses
Leon V. Casals and Lilia C. Casals, the spouses Carlos L. Climaco and Lydia R. Climaco, the
spouses Jose L. Climaco, Jr. and Blanquita C. Climaco, and Consuelo L. Climaco. The vendors
allegedly represented to the vendees that the property was inherited by them from the late
Mamerto Ingjug, and that they were his only surviving heirs. The sale was evidenced by a Deed

of Sale of Unregistered Land[1] and an Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of


Sale[2] executed by the vendors in favor of the vendees.
On 10 August 1992, herein petitioners as heirs of Romana Ingjug, namely, Bedesa, Pedro,
Rita and Barbara; heirs of Francisco Ingjug, namely, Leonardo, Lilia, Fernanda, Zenaida, Pacita
and Antonio; and, heirs of Francisca, namely, Uldarico, and Paulina, challenged respondents'
ownership of the property by filing a complaint for Partition, Recovery of Ownership and
Possession, Declaration of Nullity: Deed of Sale of Unregistered Land; Extrajudicial Settlement
and Confirmation of Sale,[3] against herein respondents. Petitioners alleged that they only
discovered in 1990 that the property had already been sold and titled to respondents, and that
respondents refused, despite repeated demands, to deliver and return to them their shares in the
property. Petitioners also prayed that the Deed of Sale of Unregistered Land as well as
the Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of Sale executed by Luisa, Maria, Eufemio and
Guillerma be nullified to the extent of petitioners' shares in the property.
Respondents - the spouses Leon Casals and Lilia Casals, and Consuelo L. Climaco - failed
to answer within the reglementary period, hence, on motion of petitioners' counsel, they were
declared in default.[4] On the other hand, respondents - the spouses Carlos L. Climaco and Lydia
R. Climaco, and the spouses Jose L. Climaco, Jr. and Blanquita C. Climaco - filed a motion to
dismiss, instead of an answer, arguing that the complaint failed to state a cause of action and was
barred by prescription and laches. They further averred that the original certificate of title in the
name of Mamerto Ingjug was lost during the war, and that they bought the property from the
heirs of Mamerto Ingjug pending the reconstitution of the title; that they acquired the property in
good faith believing that the vendors were indeed the only surviving heirs of Mamerto Ingjug;
that upon the issuance of the reconstituted title the vendors executed the questioned Deed of
Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of Sale in their favor; and that, on the basis of the
deed, the original certificate of title in the name of Mamerto Ingjug was cancelled and Transfer
Certificate of Title No. T-1150 was issued in their names.[5]
On 24 February 1993 the trial court in dismissing the complaint held[6] -

From February 9, 1965 to October 10, 1992 when the instant action was filed in court
is 27 years and from February 2, 1967, the time the title was transferred to defendants
to October 10, 1992 when plaintiffs initiated the instant case is 25 years. The
possession of the property is admitted by the plaintiffs to be with the defendants. If
this is so, then the conclusion is inevitable that the property has already been acquired
by the defendants by prescription, and the action to recover the same has already been
lost x x x x Co-ownership of the lot in question was already repudiated as early as
1965 when Luisa, Maria and Guillerma sold the land claiming they are the only heirs
of Mamerto Ingjug, and when the other compulsory heir, Francisco Ingjug confirmed
said sale in 1967. From that date, plaintiffs had only 10 years to initiate an action for
reconveyance which they failed to do. Accordingly, an action for reconveyance based
on implied or constructive trust prescribes in ten years counted from the date when an
adverse title is asserted by the possessor of the property x x x moreover, "the rule in
this jurisdiction is that an action to enforce an implied trust may be barred not only by
prescription but also by laches in which case repudiation is not even required."

On 26 February 1998 the Court of Appeals, as stated earlier, affirmed the Decision of the
trial court.[7]
Petitioners now seek a review of the appellate court's Decision contending that: (a) the
litigated property was originally registered under the Torrens system and, as such, it cannot be
acquired by prescription or adverse possession; (b) prescription is unavailing not only against the
registered owner but also against his hereditary successors because the latter merely step into the
shoes of the former by operation of law and are merely the continuation of the personality of
their predecessors in interest; (c) the right to recover possession of a registered property is
equally imprescriptible; (d) laches too may not be considered a valid defense for claiming
ownership of land registered under the Torrens system. When prescription would not lie, neither
would laches be available; (e) respondents are not in possession of the land in the concept of
owners, but are merely holding the same in trust for petitioners; (f) neither could possession of
respondents be characterized as adverse possession in good faith; (g) Francisco Ingjug could not
have been a party to the Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of Sale in 1967
because he died on 17 August 1963; and, (h) Eufemio Ingjug, one of the signatories to the Deed
of Sale, was not the son of Mamerto Ingjug but only a son-in-law, he being a Tiro and husband
of Ramona Ingjug-Tiro.[8]
The pivotal issue is whether petitioners' right to institute a complaint for partition and
reconveyance is effectively barred by prescription and laches.
We grant the petition. It should be noted that the trial court dismissed the complaint based
on prescription and laches alone without taking into consideration the other issues raised by
petitioners concerning the validity of the contract and its bearing on the matter of
prescription. The Court of Appeals likewise skirted the other issues and sustained the trial court's
theory that herein petitioners' cause of action - which is essentially one for reconveyance based
upon a constructive or implied trust resulting from fraud - had been effectively lost through
prescription and laches.
A cursory reading of the complaint, however, reveals that the action filed by petitioners was
for partition, recovery of ownership and possession, declaration of nullity of a deed of sale of
unregistered land and extrajudicial settlement and confirmation of sale. Petitioners' causes
of action are premised on their claim that: (a) the Deed of Sale of Unregistered Land is void and
of no effect since their respective shares in the inheritance were included in the sale without their
knowledge and consent, and one of the vendor-signatories therein, Eufemio Ingjug (Eufemio
Tiro,[9] husband of Romana Ingjug[10]), was not even a direct and compulsory heir of the decedent;
and (b) the Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of Sale is simulated and therefore null and
void ab initio, as it was purportedly executed in1967 by, among others, Eufemio Tiro who was
not an heir, and by Francisco Ingjug who died in 1963. Also, the prayer in the same complaint
expressly asks that all those transactions be declared null and void. In other words, it is the
nullity of the deeds of sale and the extrajudicial settlement and confirmation of the sale which is
the basic hypothesis upon which the instant civil action rests. Thus, it appears that we are dealing
here not with simple voidable contracts tainted with fraud, but with contracts that are altogether
null and void ab initio.
Assuming petitioners' allegations to be true, without however prejudging the validity or
invalidity of the contract of sale and the extrajudicial settlement which will ultimately be
determined by the trial court, Romana, Francisco, Francisca, Luisa and Maria, succeeded to the

possession and ownership of the land from the time of the death of their father Mamerto
Ingjug. The property should have been divided equally among them, but prior to its partition
these heirs of Mamerto Ingjug owned the property in common. It follows then that Luisa, Maria
and Guillerma (daughter of Francisca) and Eufemio Ingjug could not, by themselves, validly
dispose of the entire litigated property to the exclusion of and without the knowledge and
consent of the other heirs since Luisa, Maria, Guillerma and Eufemio are not the exclusive
owners thereof. More so in the case of Eufemio, who is claimed to be a total stranger to and
therefore has no legal interest whatsoever in the inherited property not being a direct heir.
Article 1458 of the New Civil Code provides: "By the contract of sale one of the contracting
parties obligates himself to transfer the ownership of and to deliver a determinate thing, and the
other to pay therefor a price certain in money or its equivalent." It is essential that the vendors be
the owners of the property sold otherwise they cannot dispose that which does not belong to
them. As the Romans put it:"Nemo dat quod non habet." No one can give more than what he
has. The sale of the realty to respondents is null and void insofar as it prejudiced petitioners'
interests and participation therein. At best, only the ownership of the shares of Luisa, Maria and
Guillerma in the disputed property could have been transferred to respondents.
Consequently, respondents could not have acquired ownership over the land to the extent of
the shares of petitioners. The issuance of a certificate of title in their favor could not vest upon
them ownership of the entire property; neither could it validate the purchase thereof which is null
and void. Registration does not vest title; it is merely the evidence of such title. Our land
registration laws do not give the holder any better title than what he actually has. [11] Being null
and void, the sale to respondents of petitioners' shares produced no legal effects whatsoever.
Similarly, the claim that Francisco Ingjug died in 1963 but appeared to be a party to
the Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of Sale executed in 1967 would be fatal to the
validity of the contract, if proved by clear and convincing evidence. Contracting parties must be
juristic entities at the time of the consummation of the contract. Stated otherwise, to form a valid
and legal agreement it is necessary that there be a party capable of contracting and a party
capable of being contracted with. Hence, if any one party to a supposed contract was already
dead at the time of its execution, such contract is undoubtedly simulated and false and therefore
null and void by reason of its having been made after the death of the party who appears as one
of the contracting parties therein.[12] The death of a person terminates contractual capacity.
In actions for reconveyance of property predicated on the fact that the conveyance
complained of was null and void ab initio, a claim of prescription of action would be
unavailing.[13] The action or defense for the declaration of the inexistence of a contract does not
prescribe."[14] Neither could laches be invoked in the case at bar. Laches is a doctrine in equity
and our courts are basically courts of law and not courts of equity. Equity, which has been aptly
described as "justice outside legality," should be applied only in the absence of, and never
against, statutory law. Aequetas nunguam contravenit legis. The positive mandate of Art. 1410 of
the New Civil Code conferring imprescriptibility to actions for declaration of the inexistence of a
contract should pre-empt and prevail over all abstract arguments based only on
equity. Certainly, laches cannot be set up to resist the enforcement of an imprescriptible legal
right, and petitioners can validly vindicate their inheritance despite the lapse of time.
Considering the foregoing, the trial court judge should not have summarily dismissed
petitioners' complaint; instead, he should have required the defendants to answer the complaint,

deferred action on the special defenses of prescription and laches, and ordered the parties to
proceed with the trial on the merits. Verily, the dismissal of the case on the ground of
prescription and laches was premature. The summary or outright dismissal of an action is not
proper where there are factual matters in dispute which need presentation and appreciation of
evidence. Here, petitioners still had to prove the following: first, that they were the coheirs and
co-owners of the inherited property; second, that their coheirs-co-owners sold their hereditary
rights thereto without their knowledge and consent; third, that forgery, fraud and deceit were
committed in the execution of the Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement and Confirmation of
Sale since Francisco Ingjug who allegedly executed the deed in 1967 actually died in 1963,
hence, the thumbprint found in the document could not be his; fourth, that Eufemio Ingjug who
signed the deed of sale is not the son of Mamerto Ingjug, and therefore not an heir entitled to
participate in the disposition of the inheritance; fifth, that respondents have not paid the taxes
since the execution of the sale in 1965 until the present date and the land in question is still
declared for taxation purposes in the name of Mamerto Ingjug, the original registered owner, as
of 1998; sixth, that respondents had not taken possession of the land subject of the complaint nor
introduced any improvement thereon; and seventh, that respondents are not innocent purchasers
for value.
Without any evidence on record relating to these points, this Court cannot affix
its imprimatur to the peremptory dismissal of the complaint in light of the pleas of petitioners for
their just share in the inheritance and for the partition of their common predecessor's
estate. Indeed, it is but fair and just that, without prejudging the issues, the parties be allowed to
substantiate their respective claims and defenses in a full-blown trial, and secure a ruling on all
the issues presented in their respective pleadings.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals
is REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the case is REMANDED to the RTC-Br. 27, Lapu-Lapu
City, for trial and judgment on the merits. No costs.
SO ORDERED.
Mendoza, Quisumbing, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

[1]

Annex 1, Original Records, pp. 30-31.

[2]

Annex 2, id., pp. 32-33.

[3]

Civil Case No. 2672-L.

[4]

Original Records, p. 14.

[5]

Annex 3, id., p. 34.

[6]

Decision penned by Judge Teodoro K. Risos, RTC-Br. 27, Lapu-Lapu City.

[7]

Decision penned by Associate Justice Ricardo P. Galvez and concurred in by Associate Justices Hilarion L.
Aquino and Marina L. Buzon.
[8]

His real name was alleged to be "Eufemio Tiro."

[9]

Original Records, p. 3.

[10]

Rollo, p. 9

[11]

De Guzman v. Court of Appeals, No. L-46935, 21 December 1987, 156 SCRA 701; Cruz v. Cobana, G.R. No.
56232, 22 June 1984, 129 SCRA 656.
[12]

Coronel v. Ona, 33 Phil. 456 (1916).

[13]

Agne v. Director of Lands, G.R. No. 40399, 6 February 1990, 181 SCRA 793.

[14]

Art. 1410, New Civil Code.

Republic of the Philippines


SUPREME COURT
Manila
FIRST DIVISION
G.R. No. L-28446 December 13, 1982
FRANCISCA H. RAFOLS, FLORACION RAFOLS, AMPARO RAFOLS, CESAR CIMAFRANCA,
CRISOSTOMO RAFOLS and RICARDO RAFOLS, plaintiffs-appellants,
vs.
MARCELO A. BARBA, defendant-appellee.

VASQUEZ, J.:
Plaintiffs-appellants Rafols are the wife and the four (4) children of Nicolas Rafols, a resident of
Cebu City, who died testate on May 2, 1947. His estate was the subject of administration in Sp.
Proc. No. 154-R of the Court of First Instance of Cebu, entitled "Testate Estate of Nicolas Rafols" in
which a certain Vital T. Montayre, now deceased was appointed administrator.
In a motion dated May 22, 1948, Vidal T. Montayre, thru counsel, sought authority from the probate
Court to sell a parcel of land belonging to the estate in order to pay taxes, expenses of
administration and other indebtedness of the estate. The said motion was granted by the Court in its
order dated May 22, 1948. The land authorized to be sold was a parcel of cogon land with an area of
approximately 100 hectares assesed at 7,800.00 under Tax Declaration No. 05805 situated in Barrio
Bunga, Toledo City. The sale of the said parcel of land, however, was not effected despite the lapse
of more than three (3) years from the time that the Court had authorized the sale allegedly due to the
lack of interested buyers.
On August 14, 1951, herein defendant-appellee Marcelo A. Barba purchased the land for the stated
consideration of P18,000.00. The deed of sale executed in his favor by administrator Vidal T.
Montayre was submitted to the Court for approval on August 15, 1951. The said sale was approved
by Judge Juan L. Bocar who manifested such approval on the face of the deed of sale.
On November 24, 1966, or more than fifteen (15) years after the execution of the deed of sale in
favor of defendant-appellee, herein plaintiffs-appellants instituted Civil Case No. 124-T in the Court
of First Instance of Cebu against defendant-appellee Marcelo A. Barba for the declaration of the
nullity of the said deed of sale and for the recovery of damages and attorney's fees. They anchor
their complaint on the principal contention that the sale was null and void inasmuch as plaintiffs.
appellants were not notified of the hearing of the application to sell the said parcel of land, nor of the

order dated May 22, 1948 and the approval of the sale which had been stamped on a deed of sale
on August 15, 1951.
Defendant-appellee filed an answer alleging, among others, the affirmative defenses that he bought
the land in good faith, that the plaintiffs-appellants are in estoppel, and that the action had already
prescribed. Subsequently, he filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the following grounds, to wit,
(1) plaintiffs-appellants have no legal capacity to sue; and (2) the cause of action is barred by the
statute of limitations. In an order dated June 29, 1967, the trial court dismissed Civil Case No. 124-T
on the grounds that it is barred by the statute of limitations and by estoppel by laches. This order of
dismissal is the subject-matter of the instant appeal.
Plaintiffs-appellants assail the ruling of the trial court that they cause of action is barred by the
statute of limitations by alluding to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Bonaga vs. Soler, et
al., G.R. No. L-15717, promulgated on June 30, 1961; De Jesus, et al vs. de Jesus, et al., G.R. No.
L-16553, promulgated on November 29, 196 1; and Corpuz, et al vs. Beltran et al., G.R. No. L-7487,
promulgated on October 27, 1955, which held that the sale of properties pertaining to an estate must
be done only upon prior compliance with the requisites provided for in the Rules, such as written
notice to the heirs, devices and legatees of the application to sell and of the time and place for the
hearing thereof; and that without compliance therewith, the authority to sell itself and the order
approving it would be null and void. They further argue that an action to declare the inexistence of
such a void contract is inprescriptible pursuant to Article 1410 of the new Civil Code.
Answering these contentions of plaintiffs-appellants. defendant-appellee argues that the plaintiffsappellants are already in estoppel by their inaction and failure to question the sale despite the lapse
of more than fifteen (15) years from the time of its execution and by conducting themselves in a
manner as to show consent and assent to the consummation of the sale; and that defendantappellee acquired the land in good faith until judicial approval and valuable consideration. Moreover,
assuming that the plaintiffs-appellants may have a good cause of action, the same had already
prescribed.
The appeal taken by the plaintiffs-appellants must fail, both on legal and equitable considerations.
1. It is true that when an application is made by an administrator to sell real property of the estate for
the payment of debts, expenses and other obligations of the estate, an application must be filed with
the probate court which may grant the same on written notice to the heirs, devices and legatees.
(Section 2, Rule 89, Rules of Court, formerly Section 2, Rule 90, of the old Rules of Court which was
the rule in force at the time of the transaction herein involved.) It is also the rule that a sale of
property of the estate without such notice to the heirs, devices and legatees is void. (Estate of
Gamboa vs. Lorenza, 12 Phil. 191; Santos vs. Roman Catholic Church, 45 Phil. 895; and Ortalez vs.
Register of Deeds, 55 Phil. 33.) Equally unassailable is the statutory pronouncement that an action
declaring the inexistence of a void contract does not prescribe. (Art. 1410, New Civil Code.)
Nevertheless, plaintiffs-appellants' cause of action may not derive support from the aforementioned
doctrines, There is no clear showing that the authority granted by the probate court to sell the parcel
of land in question way back since May 22, 1948 as without written notice to the heirs, devices and
legatees. Plaintiffs-appellants offered no proof as to such alleged lack of notice. 'They rely solely on
Exhibits "A", "B", "C", "D" and "D-1 " which were presented not by them but by defendant-appellee
during the hearing of the motion to dismiss to support such contention. Exhibit "A" is the motion of
Atty. Emilio Lumontad, counsel for the administrator, praying that the administrator be authorized to
sell the land in question. Exhibit "B" is the order of Judge Higinio B. Macadaeg granting said
authority for the purpose of meeting the obligations of the estate. Exhibit "C" is another motion of
Atty. Lumontad praying that the sale in favor of defendant-appellee be approved. Exhibit "D" is the

deed of sale and Exhibit "D-1 " is the approval of said sale indicated by Judge Juan L. Bocar on
page 2 thereof. Plaintiffs-appellants capitalize the fact that in none of said documents or papers does
it appear that they were served or given notice of the same.
To Our mind, the circumstance pointed out by plaintiffs-appellants does not suffice to annul the sale
in question. The lack of any indication on the documents mentioned that they were served with
copies of the same does not necessarily mean that they had no notice thereof. In the absence of a
positive showing that the requirements for securing the authority to sell had not been complied with,
it is appropriate to apply the presumptions that the law had been obeyed; that official duty has been
regularly performed; and that private transactions had been fair and regular. (Sec. 5, pars. m. p and
ff. Rule 131, Rules of Court.)
When, by the order of the court, a property of the estate is sold under this provision,
the purchaser in good faith may rest on he presumption of the legality of the court's
order. (Esguerra vs. de Leon, 69 Phil. 493.)
2. The record reveals sufficient indicia that the plaintiffs-appellants were fully aware of the sale of the
subject land in favor of defendant-appellee despite which they questioned the validity of the same
only after the lapse of fifteen (15) years from its execution. They could not have been ignorant of the
fact that the estate of their deceased father was under settlement proceedings with a courtappointed administrator who is required by law to render an accounting of his administration. The
record shows that on August 18, 1951 or just three (3) days after the execution of the deed of sale in
favor of defendant-appellee, herein plaintiffs-appellants Ricardo, Crisostomo and Amparo, all
surnamed RAFOLS, filed a motion praying that the administrator be ordered to pay each of them the
sum of P1,000.00, plus P600.00 for their lawyer. This motion was granted by Judge Bocar on the
same date. (Rollo, p. 31.) It also appears that after the death of Vidal T. Montayre who was the one
originally appointed administrator of the estate, he was substituted in such capacity by Ricardo
Rafols, one of the plaintiffs-appellants herein.
On January 8, 1954, the administrator filed a "REPORT ON THE PRESENT STATUS OF THE
ESTATE OF NICOLAS RAFOLS." (Rollo, pp. 33-37.) In the said report, mention is expressly made
of the sale of the parcel of land in question in favor of defendant-appellee for the sum of P18,000.00
(at page 3 thereof). Plaintiffs-appellants do not claim that they had no notice of such report, nor of
the final accounting and motion for closing of administration filed by Ricardo Rafols as administrator
on September 17, 1962. (Rollo, pp. 38-39.) It was not until November 24, 1966 that the plaintiffsappellants commenced the present action in the Court of First Instance of Cebu.
The motivation for having instituted this action was placed in issue by the actuation of Ricardo Rafols
who, during the pendency of the present appeal in this Court, filed a motion to withdraw appeal on
April 27, 1968. In said motion, he stated, among others, the following:
d) That the Deed of Sale of the land in question was executed by the Administrator
selling the same to defendant Marcelo Barba for the consideration of EIGHTEEN
THOUSAND PESOS (P18,000.00), and the sale was approved by the Court on
August 15, 1951;
e) That all of us, heirs of the late Nicolas Rafols, knew all the time that the estate had
no money with which to pay the claims of the creditors, to pay the estate and
inheritance taxes and other expenses of the administration and the only way to raise
money to meet all obligations of the estate is to sell the land in question situated in
Toledo, Cebu, or that other land situated in Dumanjug Cebu;

f) That all of us, heirs of the late Nicolas Rafols, knew that the consideration of
EIGHTEEN THOUSAND PESOS (P18,000.00) paid by Marcelo Barba for the land in
question was the best price offered for the land was unproductive;
g) That out of the proceeds of the sale, the inheritance and estate taxes, creditor's
claim, other expenses of the administration and the attorney's fees were paid and the
surplus amount left were divided be all of us, heirs of Nicolas Rafols
h) That, in conscience, I cannot allow myself to be a party to an injustice for deep
down in my heart I and all of us, heirs of the late Nicolas Rafols, are conscious that
the transaction was on the level and it helped the estate in meeting its obligations.
(Rollo, pp. 42-43.)
3. The infirmity of the subject deed of sale is premised on the alleged nullity of the order of the court
authorizing the sale, The validity of said order may not be attacked in a collateral proceeding, the
supposed ground for declaring it void for lack of jurisdiction not being apparent on the face thereof.
To enable the plaintiffs-appellants to rely on the rule that the action to declare the inexistence of a
contract does not prescribe, it must first be shown that the subject contract is indeed null and void.
As aforesaid, the basis of this supposition, to wit, the nullity of the authority granted by the probate
court to sell the property, had not been adequately shown.
In the least, plaintiffs-appellants are already guilty of laches as would effectively derail their cause of
action. While it is true that, technically, the action to annul a void or inexistent contract does not
prescribe, it may nonetheless be barred by laches. As was stated in Nielson & Co. v. Lepanto
Consolidated Mining Co., L-21601, December 17 1966 18 SCRA:
The defense of laches applies independently of prescription. Laches is different from
the statute of limitations. Prescription is concerned with the fact of delay, whereas
laches is concerned with the effect of delay. Prescription is a matter of time; laches is
principally a question of inequity of permitting a claim to be enforced, this inequity
being founded on the same change in the condition of the property or the relation of
the parties. Prescription is statutory; laches is not. Laches applies in equity, whereas
prescription applies at law. Prescription is based on fixed time; laches is not.
The essential elements of the principle of laches are all present herein, to wit:
... (1) conduct on the part of the defendant, or one under whom he claims, giving rise
to the situation that led to the complaint and for which the complaint seeks a remedy;
(2) delay in asserting the complainant's rights, the complainant having had
knowledge or notice of the defendant's conduct and having been afforded an
opportunity to institute a suit; (3) lack of knowledge or notice on the part of the
defendant that the complainant would assert the right on which he bases his suit; and
(4) injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the
complainant or the suit it not held barred. (Yusingco vs. Ong Hing Lian, 42 SCRA
589.)
The defendant-appellee purchased the parcel of land in question giving rise to the complaint of
herein plaintiffs-appellants. The latter delayed the assertion of their supposed right to annul the sale
for a period of over fifteen (15) years despite knowledge or notice of such sale. They had all the
opportunity within that period of time to take action to set aside or annul the sale. Defendantappellee was never apprised of arty intention on the part of plaintiffs-appellants to annul the sale

until this action was filed. Finally, the defendant-appellee stands to lose the property in question if
the suit filed against him by plaintiffs-appellants shall not be deemed barred.
WHEREFORE, the order appealed from is hereby affirmed. With costs against plaintiffs-appellants.
SO ORDERED.
Teehankee, (Acting C.J.), Melencio-Herrera, Plana, Relova and Gutierrez, Jr., JJ., concur

The doctrine of laches is based on the maxim that "equity aids the vigilant and not those who
slumber on their rights." (Black's LawDictionary). The outcome is that a legal right or claim will
not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the
adverse party.
In pari delicto (potior/melior est conditio possidentis), Latin for "in equal fault (better is the
condition of the possessor)", is a legal term used to indicate that two persons or entities are
equally at fault, whether the malfeasance in question is a crime or tort.