Is a complaint filed by an heir for revocation of donation and recovery of possession of the donated property sans settlement of the donor’s estate dismissible on the ground of prematurity?
SOCORRO T. CLEMENTE, AS SUBSTITUTED BY SALVADOR T. CLEMENTE, PETITIONER, V. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES (DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS, REGION IV-A), RESPONDENT.
[ G.R. No. 220008, February 20, 2019 ]
Municipal Mayor Amado A. Clemente (Mayor Clemente), Dr. Vicente A. Clemente, Judge Ramon A. Clemente, and Milagros A. Clemente (Clemente Siblings) were the owners of a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-50896. During their lifetime, they executed a Deed of Donation dated 16 March 1963 over a one-hectare portion of their property (Subject Property) in favor of the Republic of the Philippines.
In 2004, almost forty-one (41) years after the Deed of Donation was executed, Socorro, as heir and successor-in-interest of Mayor Clemente, filed a Complaint, and subsequently an Amended Complaint, for Revocation of Donation, Reconveyance and Recovery of Possession alleging that the Republic of the Philippines failed to comply with the condition imposed on the Deed of Donation, which was to use the property “solely for hospital site only and for no other else, where a [government [h]ospital shall be constructed.
Ruling of the RTC
On 24 September 2007, the RTC rendered its Decision dismissing the case on the ground of prematurity.
In a Resolution dated 4 April 2008, the RTC denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by Socorro. Thus, Socorro appealed to the CA.
Ruling of the CA
In a Decision dated 17 October 2014, the CA denied the appeal, finding that while there may be basis for the recovery of the property, Socorro, as an heir of a deceased co-donor, cannot assert the concept of heirship to participate in the revocation of the property donated by her successor-in-interest. The CA held:
Prescinding simply from the hypothetical effect of succession for Socorro T. Clemente, neither was there any assertion on the initiatory pleading nor evidence from the plaintiff-appellant as to any judicial or extra-judicial settlement of the estate of her husband as co-donor. And without any representation from Socorro T. Clemente on the Amended Complaint as to previous determination of heirs, full liquidation of the estate and payment of estate debts, if any, it cannot be assumed, and the plaintiff’s representatives cannot assert heirship, that a portion of the property donated was still part of the estate of Socorro T. Clemente’s husband. Corollary thereto, Section 2, Rule 73 of the Revised Rules of Court illuminates that until liquidation of the property, neither the widow nor the heirs can sue for participation therein.
Whether or not settlement of the estate or determination of the heirs and full liquidation of the estate is a necessary requirement before the petitioner may file an action for revocation of donation and reconveyance of property.
It has been settled that a co-heir or co-owner may bring suit without impleading all the other co-owners if the suit is for the benefit of all. In Spouses Mendoza v. Coronel, we held:
[T]he law now allows a co-owner to bring an action for ejectment, which covers all kinds of actions for the recovery of possession, including forcible entry and unlawful detainer, without the necessity of joining all the other co-owners as co-plaintiffs, because the suit is deemed to be instituted for the benefit of all.
In subsequent cases, this Court has consistently held that as long as the co-owner recognizes the co-ownership, there is no need to implead all the co-owners in all kinds of action for recovery of possession. In Catedrilla v. Lauron, we held:
Petitioner can file the action for ejectment without impleading his co-owners. In Wee v. De Castro, wherein petitioner therein argued that the respondent cannot maintain an action for ejectment against him, without joining all his co-owners, we ruled in this wise:
Article 487 of the New Civil Code is explicit on this point:
ART. 487. Any one of the co-owners may bring an action in ejectment.
This article covers all kinds of action for the recovery of possession, i.e., forcible entry and unlawful detainer (accion interdictal), recovery of possession (accion publiciana), and recovery of ownership (accion de reivindicacion). As explained by the renowned civil[i]st, Professor Arturo M. Tolentino:
A co-owner may bring such an action, without the necessity of joining all the other co-owners as co-plaintiffs, because the suit is deemed to be instituted for the benefit of all. If the action is for the benefit of the plaintiff alone, such that he claims possession for himself and not for the co-ownership, the action will not prosper.
In the more recent case of Carandang v. Heirs of De Guzman, this Court declared that a co-owner is not even a necessary party to an action for ejectment, for complete relief can be afforded even in his absence, thus:
In sum, in suits to recover properties, all co-owners are real parties in interest. However, pursuant to Article 487 of the Civil Code and the relevant jurisprudence, any one of them may bring an action, any kind of action for the recovery of co-owned properties. Therefore, only one of the co-owners, namely the co-owner who filed the suit for the recovery of the co-owned property, is an indispensable party thereto. The other co-owners are not indispensable parties. They are not even necessary parties, for a complete relief can be afforded in the suit even without their participation, since the suit is presumed to have been filed for the benefit of all co-owners.
In this case, although petitioner alone filed the complaint for unlawful detainer, he stated in the complaint that he is one of the heirs of the late Lilia Castigador, his mother, who inherited the subject lot, from her parents. Petitioner did not claim exclusive ownership of the subject lot, but he filed the complaint for the purpose of recovering its possession which would redound to the benefit of the co-owners. Since petitioner recognized the existence of a co-ownership, he, as a co-owner, can bring the action without the necessity of joining all the other co-owners as co-plaintiffs. (Emphasis supplied)
In this case, it is not disputed that Socorro is an heir of one of the donors. Moreover, her prayer in her action was to revoke the Deed of Donation and to cancel the TCT issued in the name of the Province of Quezon, and to issue a new certificate in the names of the heirs of the Clemente Siblings, pro-indiviso, and to direct the Republic to surrender or reconvey possession over the property to the heirs of the Clemente Siblings. It is clear, therefore, that Socorro acknowledges and continues to recognize her co-heirs as co-owners of the Subject Property. Further, based on the Complaint and Amended Complaint of Socorro, it is clear that the suit was intended for the benefit of all the co-heirs of the Clemente Siblings. Thus, there is no need to implead the other co-heirs for the action to proceed as it is for the benefit of the co-ownership.
Moreover, there is no need for the settlement of the estate before one of the heirs can institute an action on behalf of the other co-heirs. Although an heir’s right in the estate of the decedent which has not been fully settled and partitioned is merely inchoate, Article 493 of the Civil Code gives the heir the right to exercise acts of ownership. Thus, even before the settlement of the estate, an heir may file an action for reconveyance of possession as a co-owner thereof, provided that such heir recognizes and acknowledges the other co-heirs as co-owners of the property as it will be assumed that the heir is acting on behalf of all the co-heirs for the benefit of the co-ownership.