Intestate Estate of the Late DON MARIANO SAN PEDRO Y ESTEBAN v. Court of Appeals, et al.




            This case is a consolidated case involving the Petitioners’ claim of the subject property, the total land area of which is approximately 173,000 hectares, on the basis of a Spanish title, entitled “Titulo de Propriedad Numer 4136” against third persons and the Government itself. The claim covers lands of Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, Quezon and Metro Manila cities.

G.R. NO. 103727

             On August 15, 1988, Engracio San Pedro, as heir-judicial administrator of the “Intestate Estate of Don Mariano San Pedro y Esteban, filed a complaint for recovery of possession and/or damages with a prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction against Aurelio Ocampo, Dominador Buhain, and Teresa dela Cruz in the RTC of Quezon City.

                  In the complaint, it was alleged that defendants secured through deceit titles to portions of the subject estate from the Register of Deeds, that the numerous TCTs acquired all emanated from OCT No. 614 and OCT No. 333 which had already been cancelled, and that the existence, validity, and genuineness of Titulo Propriedad No. 4136 dated April 25, 1894 had been resolved in favor of the petitioner in a decision dated April 25, 1978 by the CFI of Baliwag, Bulacan pertaining to a case docketed as Special Proceeding No. 312-B.

                On July 7, 1989, RTC dismissed the complaint stating that defendants are already the registered owners of the parcels of land covered by Torrens title which cannot be defeated by the alleged Spanish title, that as per decision of CFI Bulacan in “In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of the Don Mariano San Pedro y Esteban” it stated in its dispositive portion that all lands which have already been legally and validly titled under the Torrens System by private persons shal be excluded from the coverage of Titulo Propriedad No. 4136.

         A motion for reconsideration was filed but the same was denied, hence the petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals.  On January 20, 1992, the appeal was dismissed stating that neither the Titulo Propriedad No. 4136 nor a genuine copy thereof was presented, that the illegible copy of the Titulo was not registered under the Torrens system hence, it cannot be used as evidence of land ownership, that the CFI decision in favor of the petitioner expressly excluded from the Titulo titled lands of private individuals, that the Titulo is inferior to that of the registered titles of defendants, and that there is no evidence showing that OCT No. 614 was already cancelled.

             Hence, on March 16, 1992, filed this appeal by certiorari based on denial of due process of law due to gross negligence of lawyer and that the respondent court committed grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack of jurisdiction in not remanding the case for trial and in affirming the lower court’s null and void judgment.

G.R NO. 106496

              On December 29, 1971, Engracio San Pedro and Justino Z. Benito initiated Petition for Letters of Administration over the intestate estate of Mariano San Pedro y Esteban. On March 2, 1972, Judge Juan F. Echiverri issued an order appointing Engracio San Pedro as Administrator of the estate, hence, on March 11, letters of administration were issued in favor of Engracio upon posting of a P10,000 bond.

             On August 30, 1976, a Motion for Intervention and an Opposition to the Petition was filed by the Republic of the Philippines alleging the following; that under PD 892 dated Feb 16, 1976, Spanish titles are absolutely inadmissible an n effective as proof of ownership in court proceedings, except where the holder thereof applies for land registration under Act 496, which is not true in the proceedings at bar; no less than the Supreme Court had declared Titulo de Propiedad No. 4136 invalid; that Don Esteban and/or his heirs lost whatever rights they might have had on the ground of inaction, laches and/or prescription; and that the subject property belong in State ownership.

           On February 15, 1977, the Republic filed a Motion to Suspend Proceedings. On February 16, 1977, the Republic’s Opposition to the Petition for Letters of Administration was dismissed by Judge Benigno Puno for lack of jurisdiction to determine the legal issues raised. On March 9, 1977, a motion for reconsideration was filed by the Republic.

         On April 25, 1978, the lower court presided by Judge Bagasao rendered the following decision: declared the existence, genuineness, and authenticity of Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 of the Registry of Deeds of Bulacan; declared Engracio et al as the true and lawful heirs of the deceased Don Mariano San Pedro y Esteban and entitled to inherit the estate left by the said deceased excluding: “(a) all lands which have already been legally and validly titled under the Torrens System, by private persons, or the Republic of the Philippines, or any of its instrumentalities or agencies; (b) all lands declared by the government as reservations for public use and purposes; (c) all lands belonging to the public domain; and, (d) all portions thereof which had been sold, quitclaimed and/or previously excluded by the Administrator and duly approved by a final order of the Court, except those which may hereafter be set aside, after due consideration on a case to case basis, of various motions to set aside the said Court order which approved the said sales, quit-claims, and/or exclusions”

              On May 17, 1978, the Republic moved for a reconsideration of the above decision. In a decision dated November 17, 1978, Judge Fernandez set aside Judge Bagasao’s decision, declaring Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 as null and void.

            The petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeals but the same was dismissed on March 11, 1992. The appellate court ruled that the petitioners-heirs failed to controvert the Republic’s claim that Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 is invalid on the following bases; (a) non-production of the original of the subject title; (b) inadmissibility of the photostat copies of the said title; and (c) non-registration of the subject Spanish title under Act No. 496 (Land Registration Act) as required by Presidential Decree No. 892 (Discontinuance of the Spanish Mortgage System of Registration and of the Use of Spanish Titles as Evidence in Land Registration Proceedings).

           Petitioners moved for a reconsideration invoking certain cases wherein the validity of Titulo had been allegedly recognized, however, the same was dismissed.

               Hence, the petitioners filed this petition for review on certiorari on September 18, 1992 based on the following errors: a) the lower court as an intestate court has no jurisdiction; b) Judge Fernandez acted as an appellate court reviewing, revising, amending, or setting aside the order and decision of Judges of equal rank; c) respondent CA has no jurisdiction to uphold the order of Judge Fernandez who without jurisdiction, set aside the order of Judge Puno and the decision of Judge Bagasao, both of which were already final; d) that Judge Fernandez was appointed by President Marcos thereby denying petitioners the cold neutrality of an impartial tribunal; e) and that respondent CA erred in not considering the evidence presented before Judges Echiverri, Puno, and Bagasao and merely adopted the order of Judge Fernandez who never received a single piece of evidence.

                After filing their respective pleadings, the Court resolved to consolidate both cases on September 15, 1994.


  1. Whether or not the lower court, acting as a probate court, in the petition for letters of administration, committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in settling the issue of ownership of the San Pedro estate covered by Titulo Propriedad No. 4136.
  2. Whether or not a newly appointed judge may decide a pending case.
  3. Whether or not the appellate court, in both cases, GR Nos. 103727 and 106496, erred in not recognizing Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 as evidence to prove ownership by the late Mariano San Pedro of the lands covered thereby.



            No. A probate court’s jurisdiction is not limited to the determination of who the heirs are and what shares are due them as regards the estate of a deceased person. Neither is it confined to the issue of the validity of wills. The Court, in citing the case of Maningat vs. Castillo, ruled that “the main function of a probate court is to settle and liquidate the estates of deceased persons either summarily or through the process of administration.” Thus, its function necessarily includes the examination of the properties, rights and credits of the deceased so as to rule on whether or not the inventory of the estate properly included them for purposes of distribution of the net assets of the estate of the deceased to the lawful heirs.

            As in the case of Trinidad vs. CA:

“. . . The court which acquired jurisdiction over the properties of a deceased person through the filing of the corresponding proceedings, has supervision and control over the said properties, and under the said power, it is its inherent duty to see that the inventory submitted by the administrator appointed by it contains all the properties, rights and credits which the law requires the administrator to set out in his inventory. In compliance with this duty, the court has also inherent power to determine what properties, rights and credits of the deceased should be included in or excluded from the inventory. Should an heir or person interested in the properties of a deceased person duly call the court’s attention to the fact that certain properties, rights or credits have been left out in the inventory, it is likewise the court’s duty to hear the observations, with power to determine if such observations should be attended to or not and if the properties referred to therein belong prima facie to the intestate, but no such determination is final and ultimate in nature as to the ownership of the said properties.”

        Parenthetically, questions of title pertaining to the determination prima facie of whether certain properties ought to be included or excluded from the inventory and accounting of the estate subject of a petition for letters of administration, as in the intestate proceedings of the estate of the late Mariano San Pedro y Esteban, maybe resolved by the probate court.


            Yes. A newly appointed judge who did not try the case can decide the same as long as the record and the evidence are all available to him and that the same were taken into consideration and thoroughly studied. The “reviewing judge” argument of the petitioners-heirs has no leg to stand on considering that “the fact that the judge who penned the decision did not hear a certain case in its entirety is not a compelling reason to jettison his findings and conclusion inasmuch as the full record was available to him for his perusal.” In this case, it is evident that the dated November 17, 1978 of Judge Fernandez bespeaks of a knowledgeable and analytical discussion of the rationale for reconsidering and setting aside Judge Bagasao’s Decision dated April 25, 1978.


            No, the appellate court, in both cases, GR Nos. 103727 and 106496, did not err in rejecting Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 as evidence to prove ownership of the subject property.

            The Court held that according to Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 892 which took effect on February 16, 1976:

“SECTION 1. The system of registration under the Spanish Mortgage Law is discontinued, and all lands recorded under said system which are not yet covered by Torrens title shall be considered as unregistered lands.

All holders of Spanish titles or grants should apply for registration of their lands under Act No. 496, otherwise known as the Land Registration Act, within six (6) months from the effectivity of this decree. Thereafter, Spanish titles cannot be used as evidence of land ownership in any registration proceedings under the Torrens system. Xxx”

         In both cases, petitioners did not adduce evidence to show that Titulo de Propriedad 4136 was brought under the operation of P.D. 892 despite their allegation that they did so on August 13, 1976. The Court held that mere allegation is not evidence and the party who alleges a fact has the burden of proving it. Proof of compliance with P.D. 892 should be the Certificate of Title covering the land registered.

       The Court can only surmise that the reason for the non-registration of the Titulo under the Torrens system is the lack of the necessary documents to be presented in order to comply with the provisions of P.D. 892. In both cases, the petitioners were not able to present the original of Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 nor a genuine copy thereof. Likewise, in the action for recovery of possession and/or reconveyance with damages, the petitioners did not submit the Titulo as part of their evidence

         The Best Evidence Rule as provided under Rule 130, section 2 of the Rules of Court:

“SEC. 2. — Original writing must be produced; exceptions. — There can be no evidence of a writing the contents of which is the subject of inquiry, other than the original writing itself, except in the following cases:

(a) When the original has been lost, destroyed, or cannot be produced in court;

(b) When the original is in the possession of the party against whom the evidence is offered, and the latter fails to produce it after reasonable notice;”

         Thus, the court shall not receive any evidence that is merely substitutionary in its nature, such as photocopies, as long as the original evidence can be had. In the absence of a clear showing that the original writing has been lost or destroyed or cannot be produced in court, the photocopy submitted, in lieu thereof, must be disregarded, being unworthy of any probative value and being an inadmissible piece of evidence.

      Petitioners also failed to establish by competent proof the existence and due execution of the Titulo. In citing the case of Hing Po vs. CA, “secondary evidence is admissible when the original documents were actually lost or destroyed. But prior to the introduction of such secondary evidence, the proponent must establish the former existence of the document. The correct order of proof is as follows: existence; execution; loss; contents.”

         In upholding the genuineness and authenticity of Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136, Judge Bagasao, in his decision, relied on: (1) the testimony of the NBI expert, Mr. Segundo Tabayoyong. Judge Fernandez, in his November 1978 Order which set aside Judge Bagasao’s April 1978 decision correctly clarified that the NBI report aforementioned was limited to the genuineness of the two signatures of Alejandro Garcia and Mariano Lopez Delgado appearing on the last page of the Titulo, not the Titulo itself.

           In a decision in Director of Forestry, Et. Al. v. Ho L Emmanuel M. Muñoz, as Judge of the Court of First Instance of Bulacan, the Court held that “private ownership of land must be proved not only through the genuineness of title but also with a clear identity of the land claimed.” In such case, no definite area seems to have been mentioned in the title. In Piadeco’s ‘Rejoinder to Opposition’ dated April 28, 1964, it specified that area covered by its Titulo de Propiedad as 74,000 hectares. In its ‘Opposition’ of May 13, 1964 in the same case, it described the land as containing 72,000 hectares.

         Piadeco asserts that Don Mariano San Pedro y Esteban, the original owner appearing on the title, acquired his rights over the property by prescription under Articles 4 and 5 of the Royal Decree of June 25, 1880, the basic decree that authorized adjustment of lands. By this decree, applications for adjustment – showing the location, boundaries and area of land applied for – were to be filed with the Direccion General de Administracion Civil, which then ordered the classification and survey of the land with the assistance of the interested party or his legal representative.

               If Don Mariano sought adjustment within the time prescribed, as he should have, then, seriously to be considered here are the Royal Orders of November 25, 1880 and of October 26, 1881, which limited adjustment to 1,000 hectares of arid lands, 500 hectares of land with trees and 100 hectares of irrigable lands

          Further, according to the Maura Law (Royal Decree of February 13, 1894), published in the Gaceta de Manila on April 17, 1894 (Ibid., p. 26; Ventura, op. cit., p. 28). That decree required a second petition for adjustment within six months from publication, for those who had not yet secured-their titles at the time of the publication of the law. Doubt on Piadeco’s title here supervenes when it is to be considered that the title was either dated April 29 or April 25, 1894, twelve or eight days after the publication of the Maura Law.

                In another case entitled Widows & Orphans Association, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, the Court held that the alleged Spanish title, Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136, had become bereft of any probative value as evidence of land ownership by virtue of P.D. 892. Under the doctrine of conclusiveness of judgment, the prior declarations by the Court relating to the issue of the validity of Titulo de Propriedad No. 4136 precludes from adjudicating otherwise. In the Muñoz case, there was already doubt as to the Titulo’s validity. In the WIDORA case, the Titulo’s nullification was definitive.

          In citing the case of Calalang v. Register of Deeds of Quezon City, the Court explained:

“. . . conclusiveness of judgment — states that a fact or question which was in issue in a former suit and was there judicially passed upon and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, is conclusively settled by the judgment therein as far as the parties to that action and persons in privity with them are concerned and cannot be again litigated in any future action between such parties or their privies, in the same court or any other court of concurrent jurisdiction on either the same or different cause of action, while the judgment remains unreversed by proper authority. It has been held that in order that a judgment in one action can be conclusive as to a particular matter in another action between the same parties or their privies, it is essential that the issue be identical. If a particular point or question is in issue in the second action, and the judgment will depend on the determination of that particular point or question, a former judgment between the same parties or their privies will be final and conclusive in the second if that same point or question was in issue and adjudicated in the first suit (Nabus v. Court of Appeals, 193 SCRA 732 [1991]). Identity of cause of action is not required by merely identity of issues.”

           In GR No. 103727, the Titulo cannot be superior to the Torrens Titles of private respondents Buhain, Ocampo and Dela Cruz. Under the Torrens system of registration, the titles of private respondents became indefeasible and incontrovertible one year from its final decree. More importantly, having been issued under the Torrens system, enjoy the conclusive presumption of validity.

             Imputed fraud and bad faith which petitioners failed to prove on the part of the private respondents as regards their Torrens titles and accused their own counsel of gross negligence for having failed to call the proper witnesses from the Bureau of Forestry to substantiate the petitioners-heirs’ claim that OCT No. 614 from which private respondents were derived is null and void. It is an elementary legal principle that the negligence of counsel binds the client. The records show that the petitioners-heirs were not at all prejudiced by the non-presentation of evidence to prove that OCT No. 614 is a nullity considering that their ownership itself of the lands being claimed was not duly proved.

              In the case of Villa Rhecar Bus v Dela Cruz, Et Al., the Court held that “a client is bound by the mistakes of his counsel. Only when the application of the general rule would result in serious injustice should an exception thereto be called for.” In this case, no undue prejudice against the petitioner has been satisfactorily demonstrated.

               Hence, both petitions were dismissed for lack of merit.

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