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Property rules

Circa ’70

Sim, Cora and Augie are siblings. The good Lord called Augie first. His children could only pray for the soul of their departed father.

Meanwhile, older brother Sim’s marriage with his wife, Virgie, was on the rocks.  In fact, they have been living separately for a number of years. The untimely demise of Sim unleashed the inner hurts and bruised feelings of the members of the clan.

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In 1993, Virgie and the children of Augie filed a complaint against Cora for Recovery of Ownership with Declaration of Nullity and/or Alternatively Reconveyance and Damages with Preliminary Injunction.

Virgie and Augie’s children claimed that in April 1970, Virgie and Sim, together with Cora and her husband Fel, acquired the Albay properties from Spouses Cas through a Deed of Cession. Three days later, spouses Sim and Virgie and spouses Fel and Cora executed a Deed of Cession in favor of Augie’s heirs, subject of which is the one-third pro-indiviso portion of the subject properties.

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However, using falsified documents, Cora was able to have the entire subject properties transferred exclusively to her name, depriving her co-owners Virgie and Augie’s heirs of their pro-indiviso share, as well as in the produce of the same.

In response to the complaint, Cora asserted the following defenses:

The Albay properties are not the conjugal properties of Sim and Virgie. While Cora admitted having acquired the properties through cession from their uncle and auntie, Spouses Cas, she claims that the said properties were actually owned by their parents.  So when her parents died, Spouses Cas merely  returned the said properties to their parents by ceding the same to their children, Cora and Sim. The inclusion of the names of Virgie and her husband in the deed is merely descriptive of her and Simeon’s civil status, being married to Fel and Virgie, respectively.

While she admitted that she and Sim did administer one-third of the properties for the children of Augie who were then minors, she and her brother recalled the deed and did not implement the same. In fine, thus, Cora insisted that only she and Simeon share one-half portion each of the subject properties.

Before Sim died in 1974, he sold and conveyed his entire one-half share in the co-owned properties in her favor. Hence, Cora became the sole owner thereof and consequently, was able to transfer the titles of the same to her name. Since the subject properties belong to Sim’s exclusive property, hence, Virgie’s conformity to such sale was not necessary.

The complaint must be dismissed on the ground of prescription.

Q: What law will apply considering that the transactions happened in 1970?

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A: The law which governs the instant case is the Old Civil Code, not the Family Code, as the circumstances of this case all occurred before the effectivity of the Family Code on Aug. 3, 1988.

Q: Does Virgie has a cause of action against Cora?

A: Yes. It is undisputed that the subject properties were originally registered in the name of Spouses Cas.

It is also undisputed that by virtue of 1970 Deed of Cession, the parcels of land were ceded to Spouses Fel and Cora, and Spouses Sim and Virgie. There is likewise no question that the subject properties were ceded to the said spouses during Spouses Sim and Virgie’s marriage.

Article 160 of the Old Civil Code, which is the applicable provision since the property was acquired prior to the enactment of the Family Code as stated above, provides that “all property of the marriage is presumed to belong to the conjugal partnership, unless it be proved that it pertains exclusively to the husband or to the wife.”

This presumption in favor of conjugality is rebuttable, but only with a strong, clear and convincing evidence; there must be a strict proof of exclusive ownership of one of the spouses, and the burden of proof rests upon the party asserting it.

Thus, in this case, the subject properties, having been acquired during the marriage, are still presumed to belong to Sim and Virgie’s conjugal properties.

Q: Is Cora correct in asserting that Virgie’s name which appears on the Deed of Cession and the transfer certificate title was merely descriptive of Sim’s civil status?

A: No. It bears stressing that if proof obtains on the acquisition of the property during the existence of the marriage, as in this case, then the presumption of conjugal ownership remains unless a strong, clear and convincing proof was presented to prove otherwise. In fact, even the registration of a property in the name of one spouse does not destroy its conjugal nature. What is material is the time when the property was acquired.

Q: Was the sale by Sim to Cora of the one-third portion commonly-owned by him and Virgie void?

A: Sim’s alienation of the same through sale without Virgie’s conformity is merely voidable since the governing law in this case is the Old Civil Code. Under the said law, while the husband is prohibited from selling the commonly-owned real property without his wife’s consent, still, such sale is not void but merely voidable.

Article 173 thereof gave Virgie the right to have the sale annulled during the marriage within ten years from the date of the sale. Failing in that, she or her heirs may demand, after dissolution of the marriage, only the value of the property that Sim erroneously sold.

Q: Can Virgie recover the land that was sold by Sim to Cora?

A: No, she cannot.

Here, the invalid sale was executed in 1974 while the action questioning the same was filed in 1993, which is clearly way beyond the 10-year period prescribed under Article 173 of the Old Civil Code. Virgie’s recourse is, therefore, to demand only the value of the property, i.e., the one-third portion of the subject properties invalidly sold by Sim without Virgie’s conformity pursuant to the same provision.

Q: In the case of Augie’s heirs, are they entitled to one-third of the subject properties?

A: Contrary to Cora’s assertions, the deed of cession they executed in favor of the children was, in fact, implemented. She and Sim even administered the said properties for and behalf of Augie’s then minor children.

Q: What is the nature of the sale of executed between Sim and Cora involving the share of Augie’s children?

A: Said sale is void as the object of such sale, not being owned by the seller, did not exist at the time of transaction.

Q: Can the heirs of Augie recover the land?

A: Yes. Being a void contract, then the action to impugn the sale of the same is imprescriptible pursuant to Article 1410 of the New Civil Code (NCC).

(Source: Ko vs. Aramburo, GR No. 190995, Aug 09, 2017)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is Dean, College of Law, Lyceum of the Philippine University; Chairperson of Philippine Association of Law Schools; and founder of Mawis Law Office

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