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Property rules

The alien wife wins

Jers, a Filipino, and Chi, a Japanese, met, loved and wed. They made their Parañaque house and lot their love nest. The title of the property was was registered in the name of Jers, married to Chi.

Their love, however, could not withstand the test of time. Chi soon filed a petition for the nullity of her marriage with Jers. The Regional Trial Court of Parañaque, acting as a Family Court, granted the petition and nullified their marriage. In the same decision nullifying their marriage, the court declared the house and lot to be Chi’s exclusive property. Jers did not move for the reconsideration of this decision. Hence, the decision became final and executory.

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While the petition for nullity of marriage was pending, Les, a creditor of Jers, filed a complaint for collection of sum of money against Jers. Les and Jers eventually entered into a compromise agreement, which was approved by the Regional Trial Court of Calauag.

Jers and Chi’s house and lot were levied upon in accordance with the Regional Trial Court of Calauag’s Compromise Judgment. The property was then sold at a public auction to Les.

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When Chi learned about the public sale, she lost no time in filing a Complaint for Reivindication of Title, Annulment of Levy and Sale in Execution, Injunction, Damages and Attorney’s Fees against Jers and Les. She prayed that an injunction be issued against the Register of Deeds of Parañaque City, and that the levy over the house and lot and the sale to Les be declared null and void.

The trial court hearing Chi’s application for injunction enjoined the Registry of Deeds of Parañaque City from canceling Chi’s title from issuing a new one in Les’ favor. The court subsequently, nullified the levy and the sale of the house and lot to Les, and made permanent the injunction against the Registry of Deeds of Parañaque City.

Jers and Les appealed the above decision. Jers pointed out that the Family Court that nullified his marriage was never able to acquire jurisdiction over his person because Chi deliberately indicated a non-existent address, instead of his real address; thus, he never received the summons and the Family Court failed to acquire jurisdiction over him. Jers likewise asserted that Chi, a Japanese national, cannot own a private property in the Philippines.

The Court of Appeals rejected Jers’ allegations about the supposed defects of the decision nullifying his marriage with Chi. It pointed out that this decision had long become final and executory. The said court rejected Jers’ assertions that Chi had no right to acquire property because she was not a Filipino citizen. It emphasized that Jers failed to bring up Chi’s citizenship during pre-trial and only did so for the first time on appeal.

The appellate court also stressed that Jers should have assailed the Family Court’s Decision nullifying his marriage with a petition for annulment of judgment, not in the present case which only questioned the nullity of the levy and sale of the house and lot to Sales.

Nonetheless, it asserted that the period for filing a petition for annulment of judgment had likewise long passed.

Q: Is it proper for Jers to raise the issue of the Family Court’s alleged failure to acquire jurisdiction over his person in the case in his appeal of the Court of Appeals Decision, which granted the Chi’s petition for annulment of levy and sale in execution?

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A: No. If indeed summons was not properly served on petitioner, then his remedy was to file a petition for annulment of judgment under Rule 47 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.

An action for the annulment of judgment is an equitable recourse that is independent of the case and is allowed only in exceptional cases, such as when there is no more available or other adequate remedy.

Q: When may a petition for annulment of judgment of a Regional Trial Court decision may be given due course?

A: The petition may be given due course if it is sufficiently proven that the “ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, petition for relief or other appropriate remedies are no longer available through no fault of the petitioner.

Q: What are the grounds to justify filing of Rule 47 petition?

A: Rule 47, Section 2 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides only two grounds for an action for annulment or judgment: extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction. Nonetheless, extrinsic fraud cannot be considered a valid ground in an action under Rule 47 “if it was availed of, or could have been availed of, in a motion for new trial or petition for relief.”

Rule 47, Section 3 then provides that an action for annulment of judgment, if based on extrinsic fraud, should be filed within four years from discovery of fraud, or if based on lack of jurisdiction, then before the action is barred by laches or estoppel.

Q: Was the lower court wrong when it nullified the levy and sale by auction of the house and lot to Les?

A: No. Without a ruling from the Court of Appeals nullifying the Family Court’s decision, which granted the nullity of Jers and Chi’s marriage and declared Chi as the exclusive owner of the house and lot, this decision remains valid and subsisting.

Moreover, it became final and executory. Hence, the lower courts did not err in granting the petition for nullity of levy and sale at auction since respondent was the established exclusive owner of the house and lot. Thus, Jers had no authority to use the real property as security for his indebtedness with Les.

Source: Tortal vs. Taniguchi, G.R. No. 212683, November 12, 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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