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Serna v CA Dionisio Fontanilla was the original owner and possessor of a parcel of land (though not registered under

the torrens system) having an area of 12,508sqm, located in Alaminos, Pangasinan. In 1921, he declared the same in his name for taxation purposes. In the same year, Turner Land Surveying Company surveyed the land for Fontanilla, with the agreement that the cost of survey would be paid upon approval of the plan of the Bureau of Lands. The Bureau approved the survey plan, but Fontanilla was not able to pay (Identity of Land), Thus, in order to avoid foreclosure, he sold the land to his daughter, Rosa. She began paying real estate property tax thereon in 1939. In 1955, Rosa sold the land her nephew, Santiago, evidenced by a notarized deed of absolute sale, which was, however, not registered. Also in the same year, they constructed a house of strong materials, which was completed in 1957 (proof of possession). Rosas heirs executed another deed of absolute sale in favor of Santiago in 1957. In 1978, Santiago and his wife Rafaela went to the US to visit their daughter. They stayed there until 1981. However, in 1978 after they left, his cousin (herein petitioners) Enriquito and Amparo Serna applied to the cadastral court for the registration of the property in their name. In 1979, it was approved, and an OCT was issued in their favor and it was duly registered in January 1980. On May 27 1981 (more than 1 year had elapsed), upon discovery of the scheme of his cousins, Santiago filed an action for Reconveyance with damages. On trial, the Cernas claim that the land was actually foreclosed to Turner Land Surveying Company. And the one who redeemed it was Alberto Rasca (Son in law of Dionisio, Father of Amparo Serna), evidenced by a deed of absolute sale. However, she could not produce it in court. The court ruled in favor of Santiago and Rafaela. Hence, this appeal. Issues raised by petitioner: 1. WON the decision is supported by evidence; 2. WON the decision is in accordance with law. Held: Yes to both Ratio: The first issue arose from the fact that the judge who wrote the decision (in the RTC) was not the one who presided over the hearing. However, the court said that based on jurisprudence, a judge who was no present during trial can rely on the transcript of stenographic notes taken during the trial as basis for his decision. This does not violate substantive and procedural due process. The court said that the evidence presented by the Cernas were insufficient. In fact, they were not able to present in court the purported deed of sale executed by Turner and Alberto Rasca. On the other hand, Santiago Fontanilla was able to prove that they were enjoying open, continuous and adverse possession of the property for more than 60 years, taking the possession of their predecessors

in interest. (1921 Dionisio was already in possession and paying taxes over the land; 1939 Rosa started paying taxes over the land; 1967 Santiago started paying taxes, and even built a house in 1955; 1980 He was also able to prove that Santiago executed a tenancy agreement with Sixto Fontanilla) Though mere tax declaration does not prove ownership of the property, tax decs and receipts can be strong evidence of ownership of land when accompanied by possession for a period sufficient for prescription. Anent the 2nd issue, the court cited Sec 32 of PD1529, which states that Adjudication of land in a registration case does not become final and incontrovertible until the expiration of one year after the entry of the final decree. After the lapse of said period, the decree becomes incontrovertible and no longer subject to reopening or review. However, one may still file for a reopening of the decree if the title was obtained by actual fraud (an intentional omission of a fact required by law). Persons who were fraudulently deprived of their opportunity to be heard in the original registration case are entitled to a review of a decree of registration. In this case, Santiago and his wife were in the US, and could not have known that their cousins were already registering their property. Therefore, it was rightfully adjudicated in their favor. (Also, the court said that there was also a constructive or implied trust which was created between Santiago and the claimant Cerna. And based on the NCC, an action based on such prescribes in 10 years. I think they used this to justify the fact that Santiago Fontanilla only filed an action for reconveyance past the 1year period allowed by PD 1529. Labo. )