You are on page 1of 19

DONATION - Arts.

725-773, 805, 806; 1117, 1127, 1129; 494; 774, 777, 911-912, 1061; 82-87 FC

SECOND DIVISION

GONZALO VILLANUEVA, represented by his heirs, Petitioner,

G.R. No. 172804

Present:

CARPIO, J., Chairperson, NACHURA, - versus PERALTA, ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ.

SPOUSES FROILAN and LEONILA BRANOCO, Respondents.

Promulgated:

January 24, 2011

x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

DECISION

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This resolves the petition for review1 of the ruling2 of the Court of Appeals dismissing a suit to recover a realty.

The Facts

Petitioner Gonzalo Villanueva (petitioner), here represented by his heirs,3 sued respondents, spouses Froilan and Leonila Branoco (respondents), in the Regional Trial Court of Naval, Biliran (trial court) to recover a 3,492 square-meter parcel of land in Amambajag, Culaba, Leyte (Property) and collect damages. Petitioner claimed ownership over the Property through purchase in July 1971 from Casimiro Vere (Vere), who, in turn, bought the Property from Alvegia Rodrigo (Rodrigo) in August 1970. Petitioner declared the Property in his name for tax purposes soon after acquiring it.

In their Answer, respondents similarly claimed ownership over the Property through purchase in July 1983 from Eufracia Rodriguez (Rodriguez) to whom Rodrigo donated the Property in May 1965. The two-page deed of donation (Deed), signed at the bottom by the parties and two witnesses, reads in full: KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS: That I, ALVEGIA RODRIGO, Filipino, of legal age, widow of the late Juan Arcillas, a resident of Barrio Bool, municipality of Culaba, subprovince of Biliran, Leyte del Norte, Philippines, hereby depose and say:

That as we live[d] together as husband and wife with Juan Arcillas, we begot children, namely: LUCIO, VICENTA, SEGUNDINA, and ADELAIDA, all surnamed ARCILLAS, and by reason of poverty which I suffered while our children were still young; and because my husband Juan Arcillas aware as he was with our destitution separated us [sic] and left for Cebu; and from then on never cared what happened to his family; and because of that one EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ, one of my nieces who also suffered with our poverty, obedient as she was to all the works in our house, and because of the love and affection which I feel [for] her, I have one parcel of land located at Sitio Amambajag, Culaba, Leyte bearing Tax Decl. No. 1878 declared in the name of Alvegia Rodrigo, I give (devise) said land in favor of EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ, her heirs, successors, and assigns together with all the improvements existing thereon, which parcel of land is more or less described and bounded as follows: 1. Bounded North by Amambajag River; East, Benito Picao; South, Teofilo Uyvico; and West, by Public land; 2. It has an area of 3,492 square meters more or less; 3. It is planted to coconuts now bearing fruits; 4. Having an assessed value of P240.00; 5. It is now in the possession of EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ since May 21, 1962 in the concept of an owner, but the Deed of Donation or that ownership be vested on her upon my demise.

That I FURTHER DECLARE, and I reiterate that the land above described, I already devise in favor of EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ since May 21, 1962, her heirs, assigns, and that if the herein Donee predeceases me, the same land will not be reverted to the Donor, but will be inherited by the heirs of EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ;

That I EUFRACIA RODRIGUEZ, hereby accept the land above described from Inay Alvegia Rodrigo and I am much grateful to her and praying further for a longer life; however, I will give one half (1/2) of the produce of the land to Apoy Alve during her lifetime.4

Respondents entered the Property in 1983 and paid taxes afterwards.

The Ruling of the Trial Court

The trial court ruled for petitioner, declared him owner of the Property, and ordered respondents to surrender possession to petitioner, and to pay damages, the value of the Propertys produce since 1982 until petitioners repossession and the costs.5 The trial court rejected respondents claim of ownership after treating the Deed as a donation mortis causa which Rodrigo effectively cancelled by selling the Property to Vere in 1970.6 Thus, by the time Rodriguez sold the Property to respondents in 1983, she had no title to transfer. Respondents appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA), imputing error in the trial courts interpretation of the Deed as a testamentary disposition instead of an inter vivosdonation, passing title to Rodriguez upon its execution.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The CA granted respondents appeal and set aside the trial courts ruling. While conceding that the language of the [Deed is] x x x confusing and which could admit of possible different interpretations,7 the CA found the following factors pivotal to its reading of the Deed as donation inter vivos: (1) Rodriguez had been in possession of the Property as owner since 21 May 1962, subject to the delivery of part of the produce to Apoy Alve; (2) the Deeds consideration was not Rodrigos death but her love and affection for Rodriguez, considering the services the latter rendered; (3) Rodrigo waived dominion over the Property in case Rodriguez predeceases her, implying its inclusion in Rodriguezs estate; and (4) Rodriguez accepted the donation in the Deed itself, an act necessary to effectuate donations inter vivos, not devises.8 Accordingly, the CA upheld the sale between Rodriguez and respondents, and, conversely found the sale between Rodrigo and petitioners predecessor-in-interest, Vere, void for Rodrigos lack of title.

In this petition, petitioner seeks the reinstatement of the trial courts ruling. Alternatively, petitioner claims ownership over the Property through acquisitive prescription, having allegedly occupied it for more than 10 years.9

Respondents see no reversible error in the CAs ruling and pray for its affirmance.

The Issue

The threshold question is whether petitioners title over the Property is superior to respondents. The resolution of this issue rests, in turn, on whether the contract between the parties predecessors-in-interest, Rodrigo and Rodriguez, was a donation or a devise. If the former, respondents hold superior title, having bought the Property from Rodriguez. If the latter, petitioner prevails, having obtained title from Rodrigo under a deed of sale the execution of which impliedly revoked the earlier devise to Rodriguez.

The Ruling of the Court

We find respondents title superior, and thus, affirm the CA.

Naked Title Passed from Rodrigo to Rodriguez Under a Perfected Donation

We examine the juridical nature of the Deed whether it passed title to Rodriguez upon its execution or is effective only upon Rodrigos death using principles distilled from relevant jurisprudence. Post-mortem dispositions typically

(1) Convey no title or ownership to the transferee before the death of the transferor; or, what amounts to the same thing, that the transferor should retain the ownership (full or naked) and control of the property while alive;

(2) That before the [donors] death, the transfer should be revocable by the transferor at will, ad nutum; but revocability may be provided for indirectly by means of a reserved power in the donor to dispose of the properties conveyed;

(3) That the transfer should be void if the transferor should survive the transferee.10

Further

[4] [T]he specification in a deed of the causes whereby the act may be revoked by the donor indicates that the donation is inter vivos, rather than a disposition mortis causa[;] [5] That the designation of the donation as mortis causa, or a provision in the deed to the effect that the donation is to take effect at the death of the donor are not controlling criteria; such statements are to be construed together with the rest of the instrument, in order to give effect to the real intent of the transferor[;] [and] (6) That in case of doubt, the conveyance should be deemed donation inter vivos rather than mortis causa, in order to avoid uncertainty as to the ownership of the property subject of the deed.11

It is immediately apparent that Rodrigo passed naked title to Rodriguez under a perfected donation inter vivos. First. Rodrigo stipulated that if the herein Doneepredeceases me, the [Property] will not be reverted to the Donor, but will be inherited by the heirs of x x x Rodriguez, signaling the irrevocability of the passage of title to Rodriguezs estate, waiving Rodrigos right to reclaim title. This transfer of title was perfected the moment Rodrigo learned of Rodriguezs acceptance of the disposition12 which, being reflected in the Deed, took place on the day of its execution on 3 May 1965. Rodrigos acceptance of the transfer underscores its essence as a gift in presenti, not in futuro, as only donations inter vivos need acceptance by the recipient.13 Indeed, had Rodrigo wished to retain full title over the Property, she could have easily stipulated, as the testator did in another case, that the donor, may transfer, sell, or encumber to any person or entity the properties here donated x x x14 or used words to that effect. Instead, Rodrigo expressly waived title over the Property in case Rodriguez predeceases her.

In a bid to diffuse the non-reversion stipulations damning effect on his case, petitioner tries to profit from it, contending it is a fideicommissary substitution clause.15Petitioner assumes the fact he is laboring to prove. The question of the Deeds juridical nature, whether it is a will or a donation, is the crux of the present controversy. By treating the clause in question as mandating fideicommissary substitution, a mode of testamentary disposition by which the first heir instituted is entrusted with the obligation to preserve and to transmit to a second heir the whole or part of the inheritance,16 petitioner assumes that the Deed is a will. Neither the Deeds text nor the import of the contested clause supports petitioners theory.

Second. What Rodrigo reserved for herself was only the beneficial title to the Property, evident from Rodriguezs undertaking to give one [half] x x x of the produce of the land to Apoy Alve during her lifetime.17 Thus, the Deeds stipulation that the ownership shall be vested on [Rodriguez] upon my demise, taking into account the non-reversion clause, could only refer to Rodrigos beneficial title. We arrived at the same conclusion in Balaqui v. Dongso18 where, as here, the donor, while b[inding] herself to answer to the [donor] and her heirs x x x that none shall question or disturb [the donees] right, also stipulated that the donation does not pass title to [the donee] during my lifetime; but when I die, [the donee] shall be the true owner of the donated parcels of land. In finding the disposition as a gift inter vivos, the Court reasoned:

Taking the deed x x x as a whole, x x x x it is noted that in the same deed [the donor] guaranteed to [the donee] and her heirs and successors, the right to said property thus conferred. From the moment [the donor] guaranteed the right granted by her to [the donee] to the two parcels of land by virtue of the deed of gift, she surrendered such right; otherwise there would be no need to guarantee said right. Therefore, when [the donor] used the words upon which the appellants base their contention that the gift in question is a donation mortis causa [that the gift does not pass title during my lifetime; but when I die, she shall be the true owner of the two aforementioned parcels] the donor meant nothing else than that she reserved of herself the possession and usufruct of said two parcels of land until her death, at which time the donee would be able to dispose of them freely.19 (Emphasis supplied)

Indeed, if Rodrigo still retained full ownership over the Property, it was unnecessary for her to reserve partial usufructuary right over it.20

Third. The existence of consideration other than the donors death, such as the donors love and affection to the donee and the services the latter rendered, while also true of devises, nevertheless corroborates the express irrevocability of x x x [inter vivos] transfers.21 Thus, the CA committed no error in giving weight to Rodrigos statement of love and affection for Rodriguez, her niece, as consideration for the gift, to underscore its finding. It will not do, therefore, for petitioner to cherry-pick stipulations from the Deed tending to serve his cause (e.g. the ownership shall be vested on [Rodriguez] upon my demise and devise). Dispositions bearing contradictory stipulations are interpreted wholistically, to give effect to the donors intent. In no less than seven cases featuring deeds of donations styled as mortis causa dispositions, the Court, after going over the deeds, eventually considered the transfers inter vivos,22 consistent with the principle that the

designation of the donation as mortis causa, or a provision in the deed to the effect that the donation is to take effect at the death of the donor are not controlling criteria [but] x x x are to be construed together with the rest of the instrument, in order to give effect to the real intent of the transferor.23 Indeed, doubts on the nature of dispositions are resolved to favor inter vivos transfers to avoid uncertainty as to the ownership of the property subject of the deed.24

Nor can petitioner capitalize on Rodrigos post-donation transfer of the Property to Vere as proof of her retention of ownership. If such were the barometer in interpreting deeds of donation, not only will great legal uncertainty be visited on gratuitous dispositions, this will give license to rogue property owners to set at naught perfected transfers of titles, which, while founded on liberality, is a valid mode of passing ownership. The interest of settled property dispositions counsels against licensing such practice.25

Accordingly, having irrevocably transferred naked title over the Property to Rodriguez in 1965, Rodrigo cannot afterwards revoke the donation nor dispose of the said property in favor of another.26 Thus, Rodrigos post-donation sale of the Property vested no title to Vere. As Veres successor-in-interest, petitioner acquired no better right than him. On the other hand, respondents bought the Property from Rodriguez, thus acquiring the latters title which they may invoke against all adverse claimants, including petitioner.

Petitioner Acquired No Title Over the Property Alternatively, petitioner grounds his claim of ownership over the Property through his and Veres combined possession of the Property for more than ten years, counted from Veres purchase of the Property from Rodrigo in 1970 until petitioner initiated his suit in the trial court in February 1986.27 Petitioner anchors his contention on an unfounded legal assumption. The ten year ordinary prescriptive period to acquire title through possession of real property in the concept of an owner requires uninterrupted possession coupled with just title and good faith.28 There is just title when the adverse claimant came into possession of the property through one of the modes recognized by law for the acquisition of ownership or other real rights, but the grantor was not the owner or could not transmit any right.29 Good faith, on the other hand, consists in the reasonable belief that the person from whom the possessor received the thing was the owner thereof, and could transmit his ownership.30

Although Vere and petitioner arguably had just title having successively acquired the Property through sale, neither was a good faith possessor. As Rodrigo herself disclosed in the Deed, Rodriguez already occupied and possessed the Property in the concept of an owner (como tag-iya31) since 21 May 1962, nearly three years before Rodrigos donation in 3 May 1965 and seven years before Vere bought the Property from

Rodrigo. This admission against interest binds Rodrigo and all those tracing title to the Property through her, including Vere and petitioner. Indeed, petitioners insistent claim that Rodriguez occupied the Property only in 1982, when she started paying taxes, finds no basis in the records. In short, when Vere bought the Property from Rodrigo in 1970, Rodriguez was in possession of the Property, a fact that prevented Vere from being a buyer in good faith. Lacking good faith possession, petitioners only other recourse to maintain his claim of ownership by prescription is to show open, continuous and adverse possession of the Property for 30 years.32 Undeniably, petitioner is unable to meet this requirement.

Ancillary Matters Petitioner Raises Irrelevant

Petitioner brings to the Courts attention facts which, according to him, support his theory that Rodrigo never passed ownership over the Property to Rodriguez, namely, that Rodriguez registered the Deed and paid taxes on the Property only in 1982 and Rodriguez obtained from Vere in 1981 a waiver of the latters right of ownership over the Property. None of these facts detract from our conclusion that under the text of the Deed and based on the contemporaneous acts of Rodrigo and Rodriguez, the latter, already in possession of the Property since 1962 as Rodrigo admitted, obtained naked title over it upon the Deeds execution in 1965. Neither registration nor tax payment is required to perfect donations. On the relevance of the waiver agreement, suffice it to say that Vere had nothing to waive to Rodriguez, having obtained no title from Rodrigo. Irrespective of Rodriguezs motivation in obtaining the waiver, that document, legally a scrap of paper, added nothing to the title Rodriguez obtained from Rodrigo under the Deed. WHEREFORE, we DENY the petition. We AFFIRM the Decision dated 6 June 2005 and the Resolution dated 5 May 2006 of the Court of Appeals.

SO ORDERED. SECOND DIVISION

JARABINI G. DEL ROSARIO, Petitioner,

G.R. No. 187056 Present: CARPIO, J., Chairperson, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* ABAD, and PEREZ,** JJ.

- versus -

ASUNCION G. FERRER, substituted by her heirs, VICENTE, PILAR, ANGELITO, FELIXBERTO, JR., all surnamed G. FERRER, and MIGUELA FERRER ALTEZA, Respondents.

Promulgated: September 20, 2010

x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x DECISION ABAD, J.:

This case pertains to a gift, otherwise denominated as a donation mortis causa, which in reality is a donation inter vivos made effective upon its execution by the donors and acceptance thereof by the donees, and immediately transmitting ownership of the donated property to the latter, thus precluding a subsequent assignment thereof by one of the donors.

The Facts and the Case On August 27, 1968 the spouses Leopoldo and Guadalupe Gonzales executed a document entitled Donation Mortis Causa[1] in favor of their two children, Asuncion and Emiliano, and their granddaughter, Jarabini (daughter of their predeceased son, Zoilo) covering the spouses 126-square meter lot and the house on it in Pandacan, Manila[2] in equal shares. The deed of donation reads: It is our will that this Donation Mortis Causa shall be irrevocable and shall be respected by the surviving spouse. It is our will that Jarabini Gonzales-del Rosario and Emiliano Gonzales will continue to occupy the portions now occupied by them. It is further our will that this DONATION MORTIS CAUSA shall not in any way affect any other distribution of other properties belonging to any of us donors whether testate or intestate and where ever situated. It is our further will that any one surviving spouse reserves the right, ownership, possession and administration of this property herein donated and accepted and this Disposition and Donation shall be operative and effective upon the death of the DONORS.[3] Although denominated as a donation mortis causa, which in law is the equivalent of a will, the deed had no attestation clause and was witnessed by only two persons. The named donees, however, signified their acceptance of the donation on the face of the document. Guadalupe, the donor wife, died in September 1968. A few months later or on December 19, 1968, Leopoldo, the donor husband, executed a deed of assignment of his rights and interests in subject property to their daughter Asuncion. Leopoldo died in June 1972. In 1998 Jarabini filed a petition for the probate of the August 27, 1968 deed of donation mortis causa before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila in Sp. Proc. 98-90589.[4] Asuncion opposed the petition, invoking his father Leopoldos assignment of his rights and interests in the property to her.

After trial, the RTC rendered a decision dated June 20, 2003,[5] finding that the donation was in fact one made inter vivos, the donors intention being to transfer title over the property to the donees during the donors lifetime, given its irrevocability. Consequently, said the RTC, Leopoldos subsequent assignment of his rights and interest in the property was void since he had nothing to assign. The RTC thus directed the registration of the property in the name of the donees in equal shares.[6] On Asuncions appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA), the latter rendered a decision on December 23, 2008,
[7]

reversing that of the RTC. The CA held that Jarabini cannot, through her petition for the probate of

the deed of donation mortis causa, collaterally attack Leopoldos deed of assignment in Asuncions favor. The CA further held that, since no proceeding exists for the allowance of what Jarabini claimed was actually a donation inter vivos, the RTC erred in deciding the case the way it did. Finally, the CA held that the donation, being one given mortis causa, did not comply with the requirements of a notarial will,[8] rendering the same void. Following the CAs denial of Jarabinis motion for reconsideration,[9] she filed the present petition with this Court. Issue Presented The key issue in this case is whether or not the spouses Leopoldo and Guadalupes donation to Asuncion, Emiliano, and Jarabini was a donation mortis causa, as it was denominated, or in fact a donation inter vivos. The Courts Ruling That the document in question in this case was captioned Donation Mortis Causa is not controlling. This Court has held that, if a donation by its terms isinter vivos, this character is not altered by the fact that the donor styles it mortis causa.[10] In Austria-Magat v. Court of Appeals,[11] the Court held that irrevocability is a quality absolutely incompatible with the idea of conveyances mortis causa, where revocability is precisely the essence of the act. A donation mortis causa has the following characteristics: 1. It conveys no title or ownership to the transferee before the death of the transferor; or, what amounts to the same thing, that the transferor should retain the ownership (full or naked) and control of the property while alive; 2. That before his death, the transfer should be revocable by the transferor at will, ad nutum; but revocability may be provided for indirectly by means of a reserved power in the donor to dispose of the properties conveyed; and 3. That the transfer should be void if the transferor should survive the transferee.[12] (Underscoring supplied) The Court thus said in Austria-Magat that the express irrevocability of the donation is the distinctive standard that identifies the document as a donation inter vivos. Here, the donors plainly said

10

that it is our will that this Donation Mortis Causa shall be irrevocable and shall be respected by the surviving spouse. The intent to make the donation irrevocable becomes even clearer by the proviso that a surviving donor shall respect the irrevocability of the donation. Consequently, the donation was in reality a donation inter vivos. The donors in this case of course reserved the right, ownership, possession, and administration of the property and made the donation operative upon their death. But this Court has consistently held that such reservation (reddendum) in the context of an irrevocable donation simply means that the donors parted with their naked title, maintaining only beneficial ownership of the donated property while they lived.[13] Notably, the three donees signed their acceptance of the donation, which acceptance the deed required.[14] This Court has held that an acceptance clause indicates that the donation is inter vivos, since acceptance is a requirement only for such kind of donations. Donations mortis causa, being in the form of a will, need not be accepted by the donee during the donors lifetime.[15] Finally, as Justice J. B. L. Reyes said in Puig v. Peaflorida,[16] in case of doubt, the conveyance should be deemed a donation inter vivos rather than mortis causa, in order to avoid uncertainty as to the ownership of the property subject of the deed. Since the donation in this case was one made inter vivos, it was immediately operative and final. The reason is that such kind of donation is deemed perfected from the moment the donor learned of the donees acceptance of the donation. The acceptance makes the donee the absolute owner of the property donated.[17] Given that the donation in this case was irrevocable or one given inter vivos, Leopoldos subsequent assignment of his rights and interests in the property toAsuncion should be regarded as void for, by then, he had no more rights to assign. He could not give what he no longer had. Nemo dat quod non habet.[18] The trial court cannot be faulted for passing upon, in a petition for probate of what was initially supposed to be a donation mortis causa, the validity of the document as a donation inter vivos and the nullity of one of the donors subsequent assignment of his rights and interests in the property. The Court has held before that the rule on probate is not inflexible and absolute.[19] Moreover, in opposing the petition for probate and in putting the validity of the deed of assignment squarely in issue, Asuncion or those who substituted her may not now claim that the trial court improperly allowed a collateral attack on such assignment. WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petition, SETS ASIDE the assailed December 23, 2008 Decision and March 6, 2009 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV 80549, and REINSTATES in toto the June 20, 2003 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 19, in Sp. Proc. 98-90589.

11

SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 126996

February 15, 2000

HEIRS OF CESARIO VELASQUEZ, namely: ANASTACIA VELASQUEZ, SOFIA VELASQUEZ, ELISEO VELASQUEZ, JOSE VELASQUEZ, CORAZON VELASQUEZ, LEONORA VELASQUEZ, and NIEVES VELASQUEZ,petitioners, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS and HEIRS OF ANATALIA DE GUZMAN, namely: SANTIAGO MENESES, ANDRES MENESES, FELICIDAD MENESES, and APOLONIO MENESES, respondents. GONZAGA-REYES, J.: Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by petitioners assailing the December 29, 1995 decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No 39729 affirming the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pangasinan, Branch 40, Dagupan City2 in Civil Case No. D-9288 and the resolution dated November 6, 1996 denying their motion for reconsideration.3 Spouses Leoncia de Guzman and Cornelio Aquino died intestate sometime in 1945 and 1947, respectively and were childless. Leoncia de Guzman was survived by her sisters Anatalia de Guzman (mother of the plaintiffs) and Tranquilina de Guzman (grandmother of the defendants). During the existence of their marriage, spouses Aquino were able to acquire the following real properties: a) A parcel of land (residential) situated in Guiguilonen, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the S. by Simeon Meneses; on the E. by Dionisio Muyargas; on the N. by road to San Jacinto; and on the W. by Juan Magalong; containing an area of 995 sq. m. more or less and assessed for the current year; b) A parcel of land (sugar cane) and coconut land situated in Poblacion, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the N. by Jose Lopez and Cipriano Serafica; on the E. by road to Mapandan; on the S. by Vicente Doyola and Dalmacio Gonzales; and on the W. by Eleuterio Serafica; containing an area of 27,849 sq. m., more or less; c) A parcel of land situated in Malabago, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the N. by Fausto Tandingan; on the E. by Segundo Toralba, Fausto Tandingan and Jacinta Biasaga; on the S. by Roberto Mamapon; and on the W. by heirs: of Estanislao Biasaga and Elena delos Reyes; containing an area of 2,077 sq. m. more or less; d) A parcel of land (sugarcane), situated in Embarcadero, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the N. by Basilio Duya and Bernardo Cano; on the E. by Simeon Manaois; on the S. by a road; and on the W. by Loreto de Guzman; containing an area of 2,857 sq. m., more or less; It is covered by Tax Decl. No. 231; e) A parcel of residential land situated in Bari, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the N. by Andres Aquino; on the E. by Arcadio Barromeo; on the S. by National Road; on the W. by Andres Aquino; containing an area of 595 sq. m., more or less and covered by Tax Decl. No. 453; f) A parcel of unirrigated riceland situated in Malabago, Mangaldan, Pangasinan. Bounded on the N. by Segundo Tandingan and Jacinto Biasaga; on the E. by Segundo Toralba, Fausto Tandingan and Jacinto Biasaga; on the S. by Roberto Mamapon; and on the W. by heirs of Estanislao Biasaga and Elena delos Reyes; containing an area of 2,077 sq. m., more or less, and covered Tax Decl. No. 1156.

12

Sometime in 1989, the heirs of Anatalia de Guzman represented by Santiago, Andres, Felicidad and Apolonio,4 all surnamed Meneses filed a complaint for annulment, partition and damages against the heirs of Cesario Velasquez (son of Tranquilina de Guzman) for the latters' refusal to partition the above-mentioned conjugal properties of the Spouses Aquino. The complaint alleged that Leoncia de Guzman, before her death, had a talk with the plaintiffs' mother, Anatalia de Guzman, with plaintiff Santiago Meneses and Tranquilina de Guzman and his son Cesario Velasquez in attendance; that in the conference Leoncia told Anatalia de Guzman, Tranquilina de Guzman and Cesario Velaquez that the documents of donation and partition which she and her husband earlier executed were not signed by them as it was not their intention to give away all the properties to Cesario Velasquez because Anatalia de Guzman who is one of her sisters had several children to support; Cesario Velasquez together with his mother allegedly promised to divide the properties equally and to give the plaintiffs one-half (1/2) thereof; that they are entitled to 1/2 of each of all the properties in question being the children of Anatalia de Guzman, full blood sister of Leoncia de Guzman. Plaintiffs further claim that after the death of Leoncia, defendants forcibly took possession of all the properties and despite plaintiffs' repeated demands for partition, defendants refused. Plaintiffs pray for the nullity of any documents covering the properties in question since they do not bear the genuine signatures of the Aquino spouses, to order the partition of the properties between plaintiffs and defendants in equal shares and to order the defendants to render an accounting of the produce of the land in question from the time defendants forcibly took possession until partition shall have been effected.5 Defendants filed their Amended Answer with counterclaim alleging among others that during the lifetime of spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman, they had already disposed of their properties in favor of petitioners' predecessors-in-interest, Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman, and petitioners Anastacia and Jose Velasquez in the following manner: (1) The third and sixth parcels were conveyed to defendants' late parents Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman, by virtue of a Escritura de Donation Propter Nuptias dated February 15, 1919; (2) The second parcel was conveyed to defendants' late parents Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman by virtue of a deed of conveyance dated July 14, 1939, for which Transfer Certificate of Title No. 15129 was issued by the Registry of Deeds of Pangasinan in the names of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman; (3) The first parcel was likewise conveyed to defendants Jose Velasquez and Anastacia Velasquez by virtue of a deed of conveyance (Donation Intervivos) dated April 10, 1939; (4) As to the fourth and fifth parcels, the same were owned and possessed by third parties. Defendants denied that a conference took place between Leoncia de Guzman and plaintiff Santiago Meneses and his mother Anatalia with Tranquilina (defendants' grandmother) and Cesario Velasquez (defendants' father), nor did the latter promise to divide the properties equally with the plaintiffs or to execute a deed of partition; that they did not forcibly take possession of the subject properties since their possession thereof has been peaceful, open, continuous and adverse in character to the exclusion of all others. By way of affirmative defenses, defendants claim that the instant case is already barred by res judicata since there had been three previous cases involving the same parties, subject matter and cause of action which were all dismissed, the last of which was dismissed for failure to prosecute; that plaintiffs' action to annul the documents covering the disposition of the properties is also barred by the statute of limitations; that the action for partition presupposes the existence of a property held in common as agreed upon or admitted by the parties but the co-ownership ceases when one of the parties alleges exclusive ownership, thus the action becomes one for a title and recovery of ownership and the action prescribes in four years.6 On May 18, 1990, a pre-trial order was issued by the trial court which defined the issues to be resolved as follows:7 xxx xxx xxx

1. Whether or not the properties in question form part of the estate of Anatalia de Guzman and Sps. Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman;

13

2. Whether or not plaintiff's action is already barred by the statutes of limitation and res judicata; and 3. Whether or not the properties in question can be the subject of an action for partition. After trial, the decision was rendered on April 8, 1992 which ruled as follow:8 From the evidence, the Court finds that the plaintiffs are brothers and sisters who are the children of Estanislao Meneses and Anatalia de Guzman and the defendants are the children of plaintiffs' cousin Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman. The defendants' mother Tranquilina de Guzman and plaintiffs' mother Anatalia de Guzman and Leoncia de Guzman are full blooded sisters. The subject six (6) parcels of land were conjugal properties of Leoncia de Guzman and her husband Cornelio Aquino were in their possession until their death in 1945 and 1947, respectively. After the death of plaintiffs' mother Anatalia de Guzman on September 14, 1978, plaintiff Santiago Meneses came across an affidavit of Cesario Velasquez notarized by Atty. Elpidio Barrozo stating that he is an adopted son of said spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman (Exhibit "A") which, is however, not supported by evidence (a court order). The said affidavit mentioned, among other things, a house and a parcel of land covered by Tax Declaration No. 699 located at Guiguilonen, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, (Exhibit "B"). The sugar cane and coconut land situated at Poblacion, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, containing an area of 27,849 square meters covered by Tax Declaration No. 978 (Exhibit "C") which was in the possession of spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman until their death. Sometime in 1944 Leoncia de Guzman called a conference among the plaintiffs and spouses Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman and told them that all their conjugal properties shall be divided equally between Anatalia de Guzman and Tranquilina de Guzman and that she did not sign documents regarding the conveyance of their properties; and that the property (parcel B) in Malabago, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, which yielding an annual produce worth P15,000.00 was divided between Anatalia de Guzman and Tranquilina de Guzman. Spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman who were childless had Anatalia de Guzman and Tranquilina de Guzman as their legal heirs. The latter succeeded the former over the subject six (6) parcels of land in equal shares 1/2 belongs to Anatalia de Guzman and the other half, to Tranquilina de Guzman. This, notwithstanding the claim of defendants that the first parcel was donated to Jose Velasquez and Anastacia Velasquez by way of "Donations Intervivos." The second parcel, sold to Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman; The third and 6th parcels, donated to Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman; and The 4th and 5th parcels, sold to third parties. The claim of Cesario Velasquez that he was adopted by the Spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman is not supported by evidence. The Court finds plaintiff Santiago Meneses credible; and his testimony, credible by itself. Santiago Meneses who is 80 years old testified spontaneously in a clear, straight forward and convincing manner. The version of the defendants td the effect that spouses Cornelio de Guzman and Leoncia de Guzman left no properties cannot be given serious consideration. It is incredible and unbelievable. How did the spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman support and maintain themselves if they disposed of their valuable properties, the six (6) parcels of land in question, during their lifetime? Did they really leave no properties? These questions remained unanswered.

14

The defendants failed to prove their allegations that the Spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman disposed of their properties during their lifetime. Defendant Eliseo Velasquez is a lawyer and his co-defendant brothers are retired government officials. On the other hand, the plaintiffs are simple, innocent country folks who have not obtained substantial level of education. The Court believes and so holds that the defendants manipulated the transfer unto themselves all the properties of Spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman; thus, depriving the plaintiffs their shares in the inheritance, to their prejudice and damage. Insofar, as the issue of whether or not partition prescribes, the court believes and so rules that it does not. xxx xxx xxx

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiffs: (1) Declaring Anatalia de Guzman and Tranquilina de Guzman as the legal heirs of Spouses Cornelio Aquino and Leoncia de Guzman; and that the former succeeded the latter over the six (6) parcels of land in question in equal shares 1/2 belongs to Anatalia de Guzman or to her heirs; and 1/2, to Tranquilina de Guzman or to her heirs; (2) Declaring the Donation Intervivos in favor of Jose Velasquez and Anastacia Velasquez over the first parcel of land; the Deed of Sale to Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman over the second parcel; the Deed of Donation to Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman over the 3rd and 6th parcels; the Deed of Sale to third parties over the 4th and 5th parcels as null and void insofar as 1/2 of the six (6) parcels are concerned which legitimately belong to the plaintiffs; (3) Ordering the defendants to reconvey to the plaintiffs 1/2 each of the six (6) properties in question and if this is not possible, to reconvey the whole of the sugar cane and coconut land situated at Poblacion, Mangaldan, Pangasinan, containing an area of 27,849 square meters, covered by Tax Declaration No. 978 (Exhibit "C") parcel B, par. 2 of the complainant; and (4) Ordering the defendants jointly and severally to pay to plaintiffs P50,000.00, as damages, P5,000.00, as attorney's fees and P3,000.00, as litigation expenses. Dissatisfied, defendants appealed the decision to the respondent Court of Appeals which affirmed the same in a decision dated December 29, 1995. The Court of Appeals rejected the defense of res judicata which was never pleaded nor raised earlier, and for that reason was deemed waived. The appellate court also dismissed the claim of prescription as an action for partition is imprescriptible. As regards the previous transfers executed in favor of the defendants, the court affirmed the trial court's finding that the transfers were repudiated before the death of Leoncia.9 A motion for reconsideration was filed by petitioners but the same was denied by the respondent court in a resolution dated November 6, 1996. Attributing reversible errors to the appellate court, petitioners elevated the case to this Court on the following main issues:10 I. WHETHER OR NOT THE INSTANT CASE IS BARRED BY RES JUDICATA AND BY THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.

15

II. WHETHER OR NOT THE PROPERTIES MENTIONED IN THE COMPLAINT FORM PART OF THE ESTATE OF THE SPOUSES CORNELIO AQUINO AND LEONCIA DE GUZMAN. III. WHETHER OR NOT THE PETITIONERS HAVE ACQUIRED ABSOLUTE AND EXCLUSIVE OWNERSHIP OF THE PROPERTIES IN QUESTION. IV. WHETHER OR NOT PRIVATE RESPONDENT HEIRS OF ANATALIA DE GUZMAN ARE LEGAL HEIRS OF SPOUSES CORNELIO AQUINO AND LEONCIA DE GUZMAN. V. WHETHER OR NOT PARTITION IS THE PROPER ACTION IN THE INSTANT CASE. In their Comment, private respondents allege that the issue of res judicata has been sufficiently discussed and considered and the trial court opted to inquire into their legitimate grievance and came up with a judicious determination of the case on the merits; that the present case involves respondents who are simple, ignorant folks who have not obtained substantial level of education and are unaware of the legal intricacies and technicalities in pursuing their valid claim. They further contend that this action is not yet barred by the statute of limitation since an action for partition is imprescriptible and that the court correctly ruled that the instant action for partition is proper. We find merit in the petition. Petitioners contend that public respondent erred when it held that the issue of res judicata was never raised either in the Answer or at the Pre-trial such that it was not under consideration. We agree with the petitioner. The records show that the defense of res judicata was raised in the petitioners' Amended Answer filed before the trial court more particularly under paragraph 18, to wit: 18. b. The case at bar is already barred by RES JUDICATA, there having been three (3) previous cases involving either the predecessors-in-interest of the parties herein or of the present parties themselves, the same subject matter, and the same cause of action, which were all dismissed, the last dismissal having been ordered by this very same Honorable Court in Civil Case No. D-8811 on October 21, 1988 for failure to prosecute which dismissal has the effect of an adjudication on the merits and therefore with prejudice as this Honorable court did not provide otherwise (Sec. 3., Rule 17) and the Plaintiffs in said case, who are the same plaintiffs in the present case did not appeal from said order of dismissal. Said Amended Answer was admitted by the trial court in its Order dated March 2, 199011 and was one of the issues stipulated for resolution in its Pre-trial Order dated May 18, 1990. Thus, it was clear error for respondent court to conclude that res judicata was never raised in the lower court. The next question is whether res judicata is present in the instant case. We rule in the affirmative. Petitioners in their Memorandum established that there were three (3) earlier cases filed by private respondents against petitioners involving the same subject matter and issues as in the instant case which were all dismissed, to wit: The first Complaint filed by Anatalia de Guzman, mother of Tranquilina de Guzman and his son Cesario Velasquez, docketed as Civil Case No. 11378 of the then Court of First Instance of Pangasinan. Said action was dismissed on August 18, 1950. Thirty four (34) years after, or on October 9, 1984, private respondent Santiago Meneses filed a second Complaint similar to the Complaint of his mother (Civil Case No. 11378) which was docketed as Civil Case No. D-7584, entitled "Heirs of Anatalia de Guzman, represented by Santiago Meneses vs. Cesario Velasquez, defendant. In the order of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 41, Dagupan City, dated May 28, 1986, this Complaint was dismissed for failure to prosecute without prejudice (Exh. "16"). Private respondent Santiago Meneses refiled the Complaint allegedly joined this time by his siblings onOctober 23, 1987; which was docketed as Civil Case No. P-8811 and entitled "Heirs of Anatalia

16

de Guzman, namely: Santiago Meneses, Apolonio Meneses, Andres Meneses, Luis Meneses, Felicidad Meneses, Plaintiffs, versus Heirs of Cesario Velasquez, namely: Anastacia Velasquez, Sofia Velasquez, Eliseo Velasquez, Jose Velasquez, Leonora Velasquez, Nieves Velasquez, Defendants. (Exh. "17"). On October 21, 1988; the Court a quo dismissed this Complaint as follows: "For failure to prosecute, the case is hereby dismissed without costs." (Exh. "18"). Petitioners' allegations were never rebutted by private respondents in their Comment as the only defense raised therein was that the application of the principle of res judicata should not sacrifice justice to technicality and it is within the power of the court to suspend its own rules or to except a particular case from its operations whenever the purpose of justice requires it. We have examined the third complaint filed by private respondents on October 23, 1987 and compared it with the instant case, and we found that the allegations contained in both complaints are the same, and that there is identity of parties, subject matter and cause of action. Thus the requisites of res judicata are present, namely (a) the former judgment or order must be final; (b) it must be a judgment or order on the merits; (c) it must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; and (d) there must be between the first and the second actions, identity of parties, of subject matter and of cause of action. Since the dismissal of the third case did not contain any condition at all, it has the effect of an adjudication on the merits as it is understood to be with prejudice.12 On this ground alone, the trial court should have already dismissed this case. However, considering that this case had already reached this Court by way of a petition for review on certiorari, it would be more in keeping with substantial justice if the controversy between the parties were to be resolved on the merits rather than on a procedural technicality in the light of the express mandate of the rules that they be "liberally construed in order to promote their object and to assist the parties in obtaining just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding."13 Petitioners next contend that private respondent Santiago Meneses failed to prove the nullity of the Deeds of Conveyance executed by the Aquino spouses in favor of petitioners Jose and Anastacia Velasquez and their predecessors-in-interest Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman since he failed to adduce any evidence to support his claim other than his bare allegations of its nullity. Petitioners claim that they were able to show by documentary evidence that the Aquino spouses during their lifetime disposed of the four parcels of land subject of the complaint, to wit: (a) Escritura de donation propter nuptias dated February 15, 1919 in favor of then future spouses Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman (petitioners' parents) conveying to them a portion of the second parcel and the entirety of the third and sixth parcels in the complaint; (b) Deed of donation inter vivos dated April 10, 1939 conveying the first parcel in favor of petitioners Anastacia Velasquez and Jose Velasquez; (c) Escritura de Compreventa dated August 25, 1924 conveying another portion of the second parcel in favor of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman with a P500 consideration: (d) Deed of Conveyance dated July 14, 1939 in favor of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman conveying to them the remaining portion of the second parcel for a consideration of P600 and confirming in the same Deed the Escritura de donation propter nuptias andEscritura de compraventa abovementioned. Petitioners claim that the record is bereft of any evidence showing the infirmities in these formidable array of documentary evidence but the courts below declared their nullity on the basis of the "telltale" story of Santiago Meneses. They contend that in giving credence to the testimony of Santiago Meneses that all the deeds of conveyances executed by the Aquino spouses in favor of the petitioners were a nullity, Santiago would want to make it appear that the spouses Aquino, in giving dowry thru escritura de donation propter nuptias and donation inter vivos, were only fooling the innocent youngters and then future spouses Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman, and the innocent minors donees Jose and Anastacia Velaquez respectively. Petitioner's submission is impressed with merit. After examination of the records, we find that there is no preponderance of evidence adduced during the trial to support the findings and conclusions of the courts below, which error justifies a review of said evidence. As a rule, factual findings of the lower courts are final and binding upon this Court. This Court is not expected nor required to examine or contrast the oral and documentary evidence submitted by the parties.14 However, although this Court is not a trier of facts, it has the authority to review and reverse the factual findings of the lower courts if it finds that these do not conform to the evidence on records,15 in the instant case, we are not bound to adhere to the general rule since both courts clearly failed to consider facts and circumstances which should have drawn a different conclusions.16

17

In actions for partition, the court cannot properly issue an order to divide the property unless it first makes a determination as to the existence of co-ownership. The court must initially settle the issue of ownership, the first stage in an action for partition.17 Needless to state, an action for partition will not lie if the claimant has no rightful interest over the subject property. In fact, Section 1 of Rule 69 requires the party filing the action to state in his complaint the "nature and the extent of his title" to the real estate. Until and unless the issue of ownership is definitely resolved, it would be premature to effect a partition of the properties.18 We are unable to sustain the findings of the respondent Court that it has been adequately shown that the alleged transfers of properties to the petitioners' predecessor-in-interest made by the Aquino spouses were repudiated before Leoncia's death; thus private respondents are still entitled to share in the subject properties. There is no preponderance of evidence to support the findings and conclusions of both courts. The trial court declared the nullity of the donation inter vivos in favor of petitioners Jose and Anastacia Velasquez over the first parcel of land described in the complaint, the deed of sale to Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman over the second parcel and the deed of donation propter nuptias over the third and sixth parcels and the sale to third parties of fourth and fifth parcels insofar as the 1/2 of these parcels of land are concerned which "legitimately belong to plaintiff." It would appear that the trial court relied solely on the basis of Santiago Meneses' testimony "that in 1944 when his aunt Leoncia de Guzman was still alive, she called a conference among them, the plaintiffs and their mother Anatalia, Cesario Velasquez and his mother Tranquilina, telling them that all their properties which are conjugal in nature shall be divided equally between Anatalia and Tranquilina and not to believe the documents purportedly signed by her because she did not sign them".19 Private respondent Santiago Meneses' testimony is to the effect that Leoncia never signed any deed of conveyance of the subject properties in favor of the petitioners. However, Santiago Meneses' testimony was never corroborated by any other evidence despite his testimony that the alleged conference was also made in the presence of third parties. Moreover, if the alleged conference really took place in 1944, a year before Leoncia's death, Leoncia could have executed another set of documents revoking or repudiating whatever dispositions she had earlier made to show her alleged intention of giving her properties in equal shares to her sisters Anatalia and Tranquilina de Guzman but there was none. The trial court found the testimony of Santiago Meneses who is eighty years old to be credible, and this was affirmed by the respondent court which stated that the matter of ascribing credibility belongs to the trial court. However, the fact that a person has reached the "twilight of his life" is not always a guaranty that he would tell the truth. It is also quite common that advanced age makes a person mentally dull and completely hazy about things which has appeared to him, and at times it weakens his resistance to outside influence.20 On the other hand, petitioners were able to adduce the uncontroverted and ancient documentary evidence showing that during the lifetime of the Aquino spouses they had already disposed of four of the six parcels of land subject of the complaint starting in the year 1919, and the latest was in 1939 as follows: (a) Escritura de donation propter nuptias dated February 15, 1919 in favor of the future spouses Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman (petitioners' parents) conveying to them a portion of the second parcel in the complaint and the entirety of the third and sixth parcels;21 (b) Deed of donation inter vivos dated April 10, 1939 conveying the first parcel in favor of petitioners Anastacia Velasquez and Jose Velasquez;22 (c) Escritura de Compraventa dated August 25, 1924 conveying another portion of the second parcel in favor of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman with a P500 consideration;23 (d) Deed of Conveyance dated July 14, 1939 in favor of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman conveying to them the remaining portion of the second parcel for a consideration of P600 and confirming in the same Deed the Escritura de donation propter nuptias and Escritura de compraventa abovementioned.24 It was reversible error for the court to overlook the probative value of these notarized documents. A donation as a mode of acquiring ownership results in an effective transfer of title over the property from the donor to the donee25 and the donation is perfected from the moment the donor knows of the acceptance by the donee.26 And once a donation is accepted, the donee becomes the absolute owner of the property donated.27The donation of the first parcel made by the Aquino spouses to petitioners Jose and Anastacia Velasquez who were then nineteen (19) and ten (10) years old respectively was accepted through their father Cesario Velasquez, and the acceptance was incorporated in the body of the same deed of donation and made part of it, and was signed by the donor and the acceptor. Legally speaking there was delivery and acceptance of the deed, and the donation existed perfectly and irrevocably. The donation inter vivos may be revoked only for the reasons provided in Articles 760, 764 and 765 of the Civil Code.28 The donation propter nuptias in favor of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman over the third and sixth parcels including a portion of the second parcel became the properties of the spouses Velasquez since 1919. The deed of donation propter

18

nuptias can be revoked by the non-performance of the marriage and the other causes mentioned in article 86 of the Family Code.29 The alleged reason for the repudiation of the deed, i.e., that the Aquino spouses did not intend to give away all their properties since Anatalia (Leoncia's sister) had several children to support is not one of the grounds for revocation of donation either inter vivos or propter nuptias, although the donation might be inofficious. The Escritura compraventa over another portion of the second parcel and the Deed of conveyance dated July 14, 1939 in favor of Cesario and Camila Velasquez over the remaining portion of the second parcel is also valid. In fact in the deed of sale dated July 14, 1939, the Aquino spouses ratified and confirmed the rights and interests of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman including the previous deeds of conveyance executed by the Aquino spouses over the second parcel in the complaint and such deed of sale became the basis for the issuance of TCT No. 15129 in the names of Cesario Velasquez and Camila de Guzman on July 25, 1939. The best proof of the ownership of the land is the certificate of title30 and it requires more than a bare allegation to defeat the face value of TCT No. 15129 which enjoys a legal presumption of regularity of issuance.31 Notably, during the lifetime of Cesario Velasquez, he entered into contracts of mortgage and lease over the property as annotated at the back of the certificate of title which clearly established that he exercised full ownership and control over the property. It is quite surprising that it was only after more than fifty years that private respondents asserted co-ownership claim over the subject property. The Aquino spouses had disposed the four parcels of land during their lifetime and the documents were duly notarized so that these documents enjoy the presumption of validity.32 Such presumption has not been overcome by private respondent Santiago Meneses with clear and convincing evidence. In civil cases, the party having the burden of proof must establish his case by a preponderance of evidence.33 Petitioners were able to establish that these four parcels of land were validly conveyed to them by the Aquino spouses hence they no longer formed part of the conjugal properties of the spouses at the time of their deaths. As regards the fourth and fifth parcels, petitioners alleged that these were also conveyed to third persons and they do not claim any right thereto. In view of the foregoing, we conclude that this action of partition cannot be maintained. The properties sought to be partitioned by private respondents have already been delivered to petitioners and therefore no longer part of the hereditary estate which could be partitioned. After finding that no co-ownership exist between private respondents and petitioners, we find no reason to discuss the other arguments raised by the petitioners in support of their petition. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The questioned decision and resolution of respondent Court of Appeals as well as the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan City are SET ASIDE. The complaint in the trial court against petitioner is ORDERED DISMISSED. SO ORDERED.

19