Duero vs CA (G.R. No. 131282; 4 January 2002)

Sometime in 1988, according to Gabriel Duero (petitioner), Eduardo Eradel (respondent) entered and occupied petitioner’s land covered by a Tax Declaration, located in Baras, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur. Petitioner informed respondent that the land was his, and requested respondent to vacate. However, despite repeated demands, private respondent remained in the property.

Petitioner filed before the RTC a complaint for Recovery of Possession and Ownership with Damages and Attorney’s Fees against private respondent and two others, namely, Apolinario and Inocencio Ruena.

Petitioner and the Ruena’s executed a compromise agreement where the Ruena’s recognized and bound themselves to respect the ownership and possession of Duero. Eradel failed to file an answer and therefore was declared in default. Then, petitioner presented his evidence ex parte that resulted to private respondent being ordered to vacate and turn over the lot.

Private respondent filed a Motion for New Trial, alleging that he has been occupying the land as a tenant of Artemio Laurente, Sr., since 1958. He explained that he turned over the complaint and summons to Laurente in the honest belief that as landlord, the latter was responsible to defend any adverse claims on the land. However, the trial court denied the motion for new trial.

Private respondent then filed before the RTC a Petition for Relief from Judgment, reiterating the same allegation in his Motion for New Trial. The RTC again denied the Petition. Private respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration in which he alleged that the RTC has no jurisdiction over the case since the value of the land is only P5,240, which is within the jurisdiction of the MTC. However, the RTC denied the motion. Thereafter, private respondent filed with the Court of Appeals, a petition for certiorari which the latter granted.

1) W/N RTC has jurisdiction over the case
2) W/N the Eradel is estopped from questioning the jurisdiction of RTC after he has successfully sought affirmative relief therefrom

1) No, RTC has no jurisdiction over the case. The case falls under the jurisdiction of the MTC based on Republic Act 7691 amending BP 129, stating that the exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest does not exceed P20,000.00 or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed P50,000.00 exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs, shall be with the MTC; provided, that in cases of land not declared for taxation purposes, the value of such property shall be determined by the assessed value of the adjacent lots.

2) No. For estoppel to apply, the action giving rise thereto must be unequivocal and intentional because, if misapplied, estoppel may become a tool of injustice.

Private respondent, an unschooled farmer, in good faith and in his belief that Laurente owns the property, he gave the summons to one of the surviving heirs of Artemio Sr., Hipolito Laurente, who did not act on the said summons. As a result for his failure to answer the complaint, private respondent was declared in default.

The fundamental rule is that, the lack of jurisdiction of the court over an action cannot be waived by the parties, or even cured by their silence, acquiescence or even by their express consent. Further, a party may assail the jurisdiction of the court over the action at any stage of the proceedings and even on appeal. The appellate court did not err in saying that the RTC should have declared itself barren of jurisdiction over the action

Citing Javier v CA, the Court reiterated: Under the rules, it is the duty of the court to dismiss an action ‘whenever it appears that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter.’ (Sec. 2, Rule 9, Rules of Court)

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