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Property rules

The aunt fights back

Mina, a spinster purchased an agricultural lot with the intention of giving it to her niece, Lucy. Thus, in the deed of sale, Lucy was designated as the buyer of the lot. The total consideration of the sale was P16,500, but only P4,500 was stated in the deed upon the request of the seller.

Subsequently, Mina applied for the issuance of title in the name of Lucy. A transfer certificate of title over the subject lot was issued in the name of Lucy. Said title, however, remained in the possession of Mina who, with the help of Jun, developed the lot and paid real property taxes thereon.

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The relationship between Mina and Lucy and the latter’s husband, Romy turned ugly. The spouses allegedly became disrespectful and ungrateful to the point of hurling insults to Mina and even attempting to hurt her physically.

Hurt by the shabby treatment she received from her niece and nephew-in-law, Mina instituted a case for the revocation of implied trust to recover legal title over the property.

In the course of the court proceedings, Lucy and Romy testified that the purchase price of the lot was only P4,500 and that it was them who paid the same. The payment and signing of the deed of sale allegedly took place in the office of their lawyer in the presence of the seller and Lucy’s siblings namely.

Contrary to her aunt’s claim, it was they who caused the development of the land. The spouses asserted that they hired Jun to develop the land. They also claimed that they allowed Mina to further develop and lease the lot. As owners of the property, the couple claimed that they shouldered the real property taxes on the lot, which was paid through Mina. Their relationship turned sour because Mina refused to pay the rent as her agricultural endeavor turned out to be a business dud.

When Lucy learned that a certificate of title in her name had already been issued, she confronted Mina who claimed that she already gave her the title. Thinking that she might have misplaced the title, Lucy executed an affidavit of loss which led to the issuance of another certificate of title in her name.

Q: Who, as between Mina and respondent spouses, is the lawful owner of the controverted lot?

A: To resolve this question, it is necessary to determine who paid the purchase price of the lot.

The positive and consistent testimony of Mina alone, that she was the real vendee of the lot, is credible to debunk the contrary claim of the spouses. It was a great help that the brother of the vendor and one of the witnesses to the deed of sale categorically declared in court that Mina was the buyer and the one who paid the purchase price to the seller. The clear and categorical denial of Jun that he was allegedly hired by Lucy to develop the lot also helped Mina’s cause.

Q: What other pieces of evidence were considered to show that Mina is the one who bought the property?

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A: The fact that it was Mina who bought the lot was further bolstered by her possession of the following documents from the time of their issuance up to the present, to wit: (1) the transfer certificate of title and tax declaration in the name of Lucy; (2) the receipts of real property taxes in the name of Mina, and (3) the survey plan of the lot.

Q: Having determined that it was Mina who paid the purchase price of the subject lot, the next question to resolve is the nature of the transaction between her and Lucy?

A: It was established by the evidence adduced that Mina, being of advanced age with no family of her own, used to purchase properties and afterwards give them to her nieces. In fact, aside from the lot she bought for Lucy, she also purchased 2 lots, which she gave to the sister of Lucy.

In the case of Lucy, though it was Mina who paid for the lot, she had Lucy designated in the deed as the vendee thereof and had the title of the lot issued in Lucy’s name. It is clear therefore that Mina donated the land to Lucy.

Q: Is the donation of the land by Mina to Lucy valid?

A: No, it is not valid.

Generally, contracts are obligatory in whatever form they may have been entered into, provided all the essential requisites for their validity are present. When, however, the law requires that a contract be in some form in order that it may be valid, that requirement is absolute and indispensable. Its non-observance renders the contract void and of no effect. Thus, under Article 749 of the Civil Code

Article 749. In order that the donation of an immovable property may be valid, it must be made in a public document, specifying therein the property donated and the value of the charges which the donee must satisfy.

The acceptance may be made in the same deed of donation or in a separate public document, but it shall not take effect unless it is done during the lifetime of the donor.

If the acceptance is made in a separate instrument, the donor shall be notified thereof in an authentic form, and this step shall be noted in both instruments.

Here, what transpired between Mina and Lucy was a donation of an immovable property which was not embodied in a public instrument as required by the foregoing article. Being an oral donation, the transaction was void.

Even if Mina enjoyed the fruits of the land with the intention of giving effect to the donation after her demise, the conveyance is still a void donation mortis causa, for non-compliance with the formalities of a will. No valid title passed regardless of the intention of Mina to donate the property to Lucy, because the naked intent to convey without the required solemnities does not suffice for gratuitous alienations, even as between the parties inter se.

Q: Can the intention of the parties to donation sufficient enough to give rise to a valid contract?

A: No. Unlike ordinary contracts, contracts like donations are perfected only upon compliance with the legal formalities required by law. Otherwise stated, absent the solemnity requirements for validity, the mere intention of the parties does not give rise to a contract. The oral donation in the case at bar is therefore legally inexistent and an action for the declaration of the inexistence of a contract does not prescribe. Hence, Mina can still recover the  title from Lucy.

Q: Is the concept of implied trust applicable in this case?

A: No, the principle of implied trust finds no application in this case.

The concept of implied trusts is that from the facts and circumstances of a given case, the existence of a trust relationship is inferred in order to effect the presumed intention of the parties. Thus, one of the recognized exceptions to the establishment of an implied trust is where a contrary intention is proved, as in the present case.

From the testimony of Mina herself, she wanted to give the lot to Lucy as a gift. To her mind, the execution of a deed with Lucy as the buyer and the subsequent issuance of title in the latter’s name were the acts that would effectuate her generosity. In so carrying out what she conceived, Mina evidently displayed her unequivocal intention to transfer ownership of the lot to Lucy and not merely to constitute her as a trustee thereof. It was only when their relationship soured that she sought to revoke the donation on the theory of implied trust, though as previously discussed, there is nothing to revoke because the donation was never perfected.

Source: Abellana vs. Spouses Ponce, G.R. No. 160488, September 3, 2004

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

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