Friday, December 16, 2011

Fuentes v. Conrado Roca, G.R. 178902, April 2010

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FACTS: On, Oct 11, 1982, Tarciano Roca bought a 358-square meter lot in Zambales from his mother. Six years later in 1988, Tarciano offered to sell the lot to the petitioners Fuentes spouses through the help of Atty. Plagata who would prepare the documents and requirements to complete the sale. In the agreement between Tarciano and Fuentes spouses there will be a Php 60,000 down payment and Php 140,000 will be paid upon the removal of Tarciano of certain structures on the land and after the consent of the estranged wife of Tarciano, Rosario, would be attained. Atty. Plagata thus went about to complete such tasks and claimed that he went to Manila to get the signature of Rosario but notarized the document at Zamboanga . The deed of sale was executed January 11, 1989. As time passed, Tarciano and Rosario died while the Fuentes spouses and possession and control over the lot. Eight years later in 1997, the children of Tarciano and Rosario filed a case to annul the sale and reconvey the property on the ground that the sale was void since the consent of Rosario was not attained and that Rosarios’ signature was a mere forgery. The Fuentes spouses claim that the action has prescribed since an action to annul a sale on the ground of fraud is 4 years from discovery.

The RTC ruled in favor of the Fuentes spouses ruling that there was no forgery, that the testimony of Atty. Plagata who witnessed the signing of Rosario must be given weight, and that the action has already prescribed.

On the other hand, the CA reversed the ruling of the CA stating that the action has not prescribed since the applicable law is the 1950 Civil Code which provided that the sale of Conjugal Property without the consent of the other spouse is voidable and the action must be brought within 10 years. Given that the transaction was in 1989 and the action was brought in 1997 hence it was well within the prescriptive period.

ISSUES: 1. Whether or not Rosario’s signature on the document of consent to her husband Tarciano’s sale of their conjugal land to the Fuentes spouses was forged;

2. Whether or not the Rocas’ action for the declaration of nullity of that sale to the spouses already prescribed; and

3. Whether or not only Rosario, the wife whose consent was not had, could bring the action to annul that sale.

RULING: 1. The SC ruled that there was forgery due to the difference in the signatures of Rosario in the document giving consent and another document executed at the same time period. The SC noted that the CA was correct in ruling that the heavy handwriting in the document which stated consent was completely different from the sample signature. There was no evidence provided to explain why there was such difference in the handwriting.

2. Although Tarciano and Rosario was married during the 1950 civil code, the sale was done in 1989, after the effectivity of the Family Code. The Family Code applies to Conjugal Partnerships already established at the enactment of the Family Code. The sale of conjugal property done by Tarciano without the consent of Rosario is completely void under Art 124 of the family code. With that, it is a given fact that assailing a void contract never prescribes. On the argument that the action has already prescribed based on the discovery of the fraud, that prescriptive period applied to the Fuentes spouses since it was them who should have assailed such contract due to the fraud but they failed to do so. On the other hand, the action to assail a sale based on no consent given by the other spouse does not prescribe since it is a void contract.

3. It is argued by the Spouses Fuentes that it is only the spouse, Rosario, who can file such a case to assail the validity of the sale but given that Rosario was already dead no one could bring the action anymore. The SC ruled that such position is wrong since as stated above, that sale was void from the beginning. Consequently, the land remained the property of Tarciano and Rosario despite that sale. When the two died, they passed on the ownership of the property to their heirs, namely, the Rocas. As lawful owners, the Rocas had the right, under Article 429 of the Civil Code, to exclude any person from its enjoyment and disposal.

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