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FIRST DIVISION

[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.

DECISION

CHICO-NAZARIO , J : p

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-G.R. CV No. 55194, dated 31 August 2001, 1 a rming the decision of the Cebu City
Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 17, in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, dated 28 September
1986. 2
Petitioners are the heirs of the late Donata Ortiz-Briones (Donata), consisting of her
surviving sister, Rizalina Ortiz-Aguila (Rizalina); Rizalina's 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
husband's estate with the Cebu City Court of First Instance (CFI), 14th Judicial District,
designated as Special Proceedings No. 928-R. On 8 July 1952, the CFI issued Letters of
Administration 3 appointing Donata as the administratrix of Maximino's estate. She
submitted an Inventory 4 of Maximino's properties, which included, among other things, the
following parcels of land —
1. Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. RT-599, acquired by Maximino prior
to his marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21546); 5

2. TCT No. RT-600, acquired by Maximino prior to his marriage (now covered
by TCT No. 21545); 6
3. TCT No. 220, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by
TCT No. 21543); 7

4. TCT No. 221, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by
TCT No. 21544); 8 and
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5. TCT No. 702, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by
TCT No. 21542). 9

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 the Register of Deeds, 1 0 and by
virtue thereof, received new TCTs, covering the said properties, now in her name. HAaDTE

Donata died on 1 November 1977. Erlinda, one of Donata's 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 Donata's intestate
estate. Controversy arose among Donata's 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 September 1977, 1 1 allegedly executed in her favor by
her aunt Donata. The other heirs of Donata opposed Erlinda's 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 nephew of Maximino, led a
Petition 1 2 with the RTC for Letters of Administration 1 3 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 Maximino's properties. But then,
Gregorio led 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 wife's administration as
part of the intestate estate of Donata. 1 4 Silverio's Letters of Administration for the
intestate estate of Maximino was subsequently set aside by the RTC. 1 5
On 3 March 1987, the heirs of Maximino led a Complaint 1 6 with the RTC against
the heirs of Donata for the partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real
property, docketed as Civil Case No. CEB-5794. They later led an Amended Complaint, 1 7
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.
In their Answer 1 8 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 su cient 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 de nitely 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
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transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz Briones. Consequently, the
plaintiff's 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
predecessor-in-interest.

After trial in due course, the RTC rendered its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, in favor
of the heirs of Maximino, 1 9 pertinent portions thereof are reproduced below —
When Donata Ortiz Briones led Special Proceedings No. 928-R 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 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. aTcIEH

xxx xxx xxx

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 co-heirs like the plaintiffs, Donata Ortiz
Briones's 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 .
...

xxx xxx xxx

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 Briones's possession and transfer of the title in her
name of her late husband's properties was no more than that of a co-owner and
no prescription shall run in favor of a co-owner or co-heir against his co-owners or
co-heirs so long as he expressly or impliedly recognizes the co-ownership (Last
paragraph, Art. 494, New Civil Code). Such titles cannot be used as a shield to
perpetrate fraud.
xxx xxx xxx
Since the inventory led by Donata Ortiz Briones (Exhibit B) has been
adopted as Exhibit 3 by defendants Erlinda Pilapil, Rizalina 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 4-C, an omission which amounts to suppression of evidence which is
presumed adverse to the defendant's 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 o ce of the Register of Deeds of Cebu City has been made thru Donata O.
Briones's 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
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and/or their children by right of representation which fact was known to her at the
time of her husband's 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, in its Decision, 2 0 promulgated on 31 August 2001,
affirmed the RTC Decision, ratiocinating thus —

The contentions of defendants-appellants 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 led, 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 speci c 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.
xxx xxx xxx

It should be noted that plaintiffs-appellees' 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. AIDTSE

With respect to the argument on implied trust, We subscribe to the view


that there existed an implied/constructive trust where, 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 co-owners;
(b) such positive acts of repudiation have been made known to the other co-
owners; and (c) the evidence thereon should be clear and convincing; and (d) the
period xed 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
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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 co-owners 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 co-owner.
xxx xxx xxx
Furthermore, it is a well-entrenched jurisprudential rule that a co-owner may
not acquire exclusive ownership of common property thru prescription. [Castillo
vs. Court of Appeals, L-18046, March 31, 1964]
xxx xxx xxx
In determining whether a delay in seeking to enforce a right constitutes
laches, the existence of a con dential relationship between the parties is an
important circumstance for consideration. 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]
Unsatis ed with the afore-quoted Decision of the Court of Appeals, the heirs of
Donata filed the present Petition, 2 1 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 nds the Petition at bar meritorious and dismisses the Complaint for
partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real property led before the RTC by
the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794. 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. ASDTEa

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, 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,
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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 one-half 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. 928-R 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 co-heirs.
The RTC in its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, justi ed its nding 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 bene t 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."
Now the foremost question that needs to be answered is whether an implied trust
under Article 1456 of the New Civil Code had been su ciently 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 ndings 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 justi es 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
ndings of fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are conclusions without citation of
specific evidence on which they are based. 2 2

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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. 928-R, 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 ling by
the heirs of Maximino of their Complaint in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 on 3 March 1987. The
existence of such CFI Order, nonetheless, cannot be denied. It was recorded in the Primary
Entry Book of the Register of Deeds on 27 June 1960, at 1:10 p.m., as Entry No. 1714. 2 3 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 would be adverse to the heirs of Donata if produced. 2 4 As this Court
already expounded in the case of People v. Jumamoy 2 5 —

. . . 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. ASHaDT

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 documents
relating to Special Proceedings No. 928-R, 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. CEB-5794 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. 928-R 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. 928-R, 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. CEB-5794, with the aid
of the appropriate court processes if necessary.
The CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued in Special Proceedings No. 928-R,
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. 928-R, 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
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evidence:
xxx xxx xxx

(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. 928-
R had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties, and to have rendered a judgment
valid in every respect; 2 6 and it could not give credence to the following statements made
by the Court of Appeals in its Decision 2 7 —
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 led, 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 speci c 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 led by Donata for Letters of Administration in Special Proceedings No. 928-R
before the CFI was not even referred to nor presented during the course of the trial of Civil
Case No. CEB-5794 before the RTC. How then could the Court of Appeals make a nding
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. 928-R 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. 928-R, 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 su cient evidence to debunk such presumption. They only made a
general denial of knowledge of Special Proceedings No. 928-R, at least until 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. 928-R.
The only evidence on record in reference to the absence of notice of such proceedings
was the testimony of Aurelia Briones (Aurelia), 2 8 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 don't think they were notified. They would have contested their right to
inherit their brother's property because he had no issue with his wife. TSHIDa

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?
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A I don't think they were notified because I know they will contest that
declaration.

Aurelia's testimony deserves scant credit considering that she was not testifying on
matters within her personal knowledge. The phrase "I don't 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. 928-R.
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. 928-R, and the issuance in her name of new TCTs covering the real
properties which belonged to the estate of Maximino. This Court, however, appreciates
such information differently. It actually works against the heirs of Maximino. Since they
only lived nearby, Maximino's 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 Maximino's 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 Maximino's 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 Donata's 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 Maximino's
death before one of them, Silverio, led 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. 928-R, they waited another
two years, before instituting, on 3 March 1987, Civil Case No. CEB-5794, 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 nally did, attributing fraud to Maximino's wife, Donata, the latter had
already passed away, on 1 November 1977, and was no longer around to explain and
defend herself. The delay of the heirs of Maximino is not without consequence, as this
Court explained in Ramos v. Ramos 2 9 —
Parenthetically, it may be noted that the ling of the instant case long after
the death of Jose Ramos and other persons involved in the intestate proceeding
renders it di cult to determine with certitude whether the plaintiffs had
really been defrauded — What Justice Street said in Sinco vs. Longa, 51 Phil.
507, 518-9 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
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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:

". . . 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 di culty,
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 in rmity, 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 con dence, 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)."TCDcSE

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. 928-R, 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.
928-R 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. CEB-5794 succeeds, then, it would be
a circumvention of the nality of the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, in Special
Proceedings No. 928-R, 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 previously determined by the CFI. As this Court had discussed in Ramos v.
Ortuzar 3 0 —
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
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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 nal
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 nal 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 nal 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 Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued by the CFI in Special
Proceedings No. 928-R. 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 co-owner with the other heirs of her deceased husband. There being no basis for
the Complaint of the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, the same should have
been dismissed.
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-
G.R. CV No. 55194, dated 31 August 2001, a rming the Decision of the Cebu City RTC in
Civil Case No. CEB-5794, dated 28 September 1986, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE;
and the Complaint for partition, annulment, and recovery of possession led by the heirs of
Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 is hereby DISMISSED. HIAEaC

SO ORDERED.
Panganiban, C.J., Ynares-Santiago and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
Austria-Martinez, J., took no part.

Footnotes

1. Penned by Associate Justice Mercedes Gozo-Dadole with Presiding Justice Ma. Alicia
Austria-Martinez and Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos; Rollo, pp. 21-34.
2. Penned by Judge Jose P. Burgos; CA rollo, pp. 99-112.

3. RTC records, p. 8.

4. Id., pp. 9-13.


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5. Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit 14, p. 34.

6. Id., Exhibit 12, p. 32.


7. Id., Exhibit 8, p. 27.
8. Id., Exhibit 10, p. 29.
9. Id., Exhibit 6, p. 25.
10. Id., Exhibit 4, p. 22.
11. Rollo, pp. 73-76.
12. Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit I, pp. 1-4.

13. Id., Exhibit J, p. 5.


14. Id., Exhibit K, pp. 6-9.
15. TSN, 22 June 1994, p. 5.

16. RTC records, pp. 1-7.


17. Id., pp. 162-167.
18. Id., pp. 54-56.
19. Supra note 2, pp. 107-109.
20. Supra note 1, pp. 28-33.
21. Rollo, p. 11.
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, 24-25 (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 petitioner's 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. . . .

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).

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25. G.R. No. 101584, 7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 333, 344-345.
26. REMEDIAL LAW, Vol. IV, Oscar M. Herrera, p. 85 (1999).

27. Supra note 1, p. 28.


28. TSN, 21 September 1995, pp. 2-3.

29. G.R. No. L-19872, 3 December 1974, 61 SCRA 284, 304-305.

30. 89 Phil. 730, 741-742 (1951).

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