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Property rules

Half and half

One and Mercy were married when Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never” dominated the airwaves.

On March 17, 1967, the couple acquired a parcel of land which was registered in the name of One, married to Mercy.

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Without One’s knowledge and consent, Mercy and Toff, who were then residing in the subject property, allegedly forged a Deed of Donation dated February 15, 2011, thereby making it appear that One and Mercy donated the subject property to Toff. Thus, by virtue of the alleged forged Deed of Donation, Toff caused the cancellation of the title and in lieu thereof, a new one was issued in his name in March 2011.

In April 2011, Toff offered the sale of the subject property to spouses Julie and Ferdie. After a series of negotiations, a Deed of Absolute Sale was executed by Toff and Julie on June 30, 2011.

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Upon learning of the foregoing events, One executed an Affidavit of Adverse Claim which was annotated on the title.

One also filed a criminal complaint for Falsification of Public Document before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City against Toff.

Accordingly, an Information dated February 15, 2012 was filed against Toff.

Meanwhile, Toff and Julie executed another Deed of Absolute Sale dated September 12, 2011 over the subject property and, by virtue thereof, the Register of Deeds of Quezon City cancelled Toff’s title and a new one issued in favor of Julie and her husband. The affidavit of adverse claim executed by One was duly carried over to the title of spouses Julie and Ferdie.

In 2012, One filed a complaint for annulment of title with damages against Mercy, Toff, spouses Julie and Ferdie, and the Register of Deeds of Quezon City before the RTC of Quezon City. While the case was pending, the good Lord welcomed Mercy to His heavenly abode.

Q: What is the property regime of One and Mercy?

A: Since One and Mercy appear to have been married before the effectivity of the Family Code on August 3, 1988, there being no indication that they have adopted a different property regime, the presumption is that their property relations is governed by the regime of conjugal partnership of gains.

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Article 119 of the Civil Code thus provides: The future spouses may in the marriage settlements agree upon absolute or relative community of property, or upon complete separation of property, or upon any other regime. In the absence of marriage settlements, or when the same are void, the system of relative community or conjugal partnership of gains as established in this Code, shall govern the property relations between husband and wife.

Likewise, the Family Code contains terms governing the conjugal partnership of gains that supersede the terms of the conjugal partnership of gains under the Civil Code.

Article 105 of the Family Code states: In case the future spouses agree in the marriage settlements that the regime of conjugal partnership of gains shall govern their property relations during marriage, the provisions in this Chapter shall be of supplementary application.

Provisions of this Chapter shall apply to conjugal partnerships of gains already established between spouses before the effectivity of this Code, without prejudice to vested rights already acquired in accordance with Civil Code or other laws, as provided in Article 256.

Q: What is the nature of the land that One and Mercy acquired during their marriage? Who owns the property?

A: Since the subject property was acquired during the marriage of One and Mercy, the land formed part of their conjugal partnership.  It follows then that One and Mercy are the absolute owners of their undivided one-half interest, respectively, over the subject property.

Q: What is the effect of Mercy’s death on their conjugal partnership regime?

A: As in any other property relations between husband and wife, the conjugal partnership is terminated upon the death of either of the spouses. Thus,  Mercy’s death inevitably results in the dissolution of the conjugal partnership.

Q: Given Mercy’s death, is the Deed of Donation that was executed by Mercy in favor of Toff valid or void?

A: The Deed of Donation is not wholly void ab initio. In consonance with justice and equity, the Deed of Donation dated February 15, 2011 is valid but only to the extent of Mercy’s one half share in the subject property. There is no need to invalidate Mercy’s disposition of her one-half portion of the conjugal property especially since that it will eventually be her share after the termination of the conjugal partnership.

It will practically be absurd, especially in the instant case, since the conjugal partnership had already been terminated upon Mercy’s death.

Accordingly, the right of Toff, as donee, is limited only to the one-half undivided portion that Mercy owned. The Deed of Donation insofar as it covered the remaining one-half undivided portion of the subject property is null and void, One not having consented to the donation of his undivided half.

Q: Upon the foregoing perspective, what then did Julie and Ferdie acquire?

A: The spouses’ right, as vendees in the subsequent sale of the subject property, is confined only to the one-half undivided portion thereof. The other undivided half still belongs to One.

Q: What are the rights of One and the spouses as co-owners of the property?

A: As owners pro indiviso of a portion of the lot in question, either the spouses or One may ask for the partition of the lot and their property rights shall be limited to the portion which may be allotted to them in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership.

This disposition is in line with the well established principle that the binding force of a contract must be recognized as far as it is legally possible to do so—quando res non valet ut ago, valeat quantum vale re potest.

Q: Is Toff liable to reimburse Julie and Ferdie with respect to the half portion of the property that remained with One?

A: As a matter of  fairness and in line with the principle that no person should unjustly enrich himself at the expense of another, Toff should be liable to reimburse Julie and Ferdie of the amount corresponding to one-half of the purchase price of the subject property.

Source: Spouses Carlos vs. Tolentino, G.R. No. 234533, June 27, 2018

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

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