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Property rules

Ownership is not the same as possession

ECS is a public health facility operated by the Department of Health to administer care and treatment to patients suffering from Hansen’s disease and to provide basic health services to non-Hansen’s cases. Since 1930, it has occupied a portion of Lot 1936 in the Queen City of the South. On the other hand, Spouses Tacio and Perl are the titled owners of Lot No. 1936.

The spouses filed a complaint for ejectment against ECS and the other occupants of Lot No. 1936. The spouses alleged that they had sent demand letters and that the occupants were given until April 15, 2005 to vacate the premises. They further claimed that despite the lapse of the period, the occupants refused to vacate; hence, they were constrained to file the complaint before the Municipal Trial Court.

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In their Answer, the occupants alleged that since they had been in possession of the property for more than 70 years, the case was effectively one for recovery of possession, which was beyond the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Court. They likewise claimed that the spouses were guilty of laches since it took more than 60 years for them to seek the issuance of a Torrens title over the property. They also averred that the spouses’ certificate of title was void since they, the actual inhabitants of the property, were never notified of its issuance.

Q: What are the remedies to a person who wants to recover the possession of his real property?

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A: There are three remedies available to one who has been dispossessed of property: (1) an action for ejectment to recover possession, whether for unlawful detainer or forcible entry; (2) accion publiciana or accion plenaria de posesion, or a plenary action to recover the right of possession; and (3) accion reivindicatoria, or an action to recover ownership.

Q: What is the major distinction between ejectment and accion publiciana?

A: Although both ejectment and accion publiciana are actions specifically to recover the right of possession, they have two distinguishing differences. The first is the filing period. Ejectment cases must be filed within one year from the date of dispossession. If the dispossession lasts for more than a year, then an accion publiciana must be filed.

Q: What is the fundamental issue to be resolved in an ejectment case?

A: It only resolves the issue of who has the better right of possession over the property. The right of possession in this instance refers to actual possession, not legal possession. While a party may later be proven to have the legal right of possession by virtue of ownership, he or she must still institute an ejectment case to be able to dispossess an actual occupant of the property who refuses to vacate.

Q: Is possession different from ownership?

A: Yes, juridically speaking, possession is distinct from ownership. It is true that a registered owner has a right of possession over the property as this is one of the attributes of ownership. Without a doubt, the registered owner of real property is entitled to its possession. However, the owner cannot simply wrest possession thereof from whoever is in actual occupation of the property. To recover possession, he must resort to the proper judicial remedy and, once he chooses what action to file, he is required to satisfy the conditions necessary for such action to prosper.

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For this reason, an ejectment case will not necessarily be decided in favor of one who has presented proof of ownership of the subject property. Key jurisdictional facts constitutive of the particular ejectment case filed must be averred in the complaint and sufficiently proven.

Q: Does the Municipal Trial Court have the power to hear and determine the subject ejectment case?

A: No, it does not. The spouses failed to state when ECS’ possession was initially lawful, and how and when their dispossession started. All that appears from the complaint is that ECS’ occupation “is illegal and not anchored upon any contractual relations with the defendants. This, however, is insufficient to determine if the action was filed within a year from dispossession, as required in an ejectment case. The proper remedy, therefore, should have been to file an accion publiciana or accion reivindicatoria to assert their right of possession or their right of ownership.

Source: Eversley Childs Sanitarium vs. Spouses Barbarona, G.R. No. 195814, April 4, 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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