HEIRS OF FABELA V. CA
In an action for reconveyance, there is presumption that the current possessor or holder of the property is the rightful owner. To overwhelm this presumption, the averse claimant must prove ownership based on the strength of his claim and not the weakness of the defense. He accomplishes the same by presenting convincing evidence of just title as well as the incontrovertible identity of the property he seeks.
In 1985 The Heirs of Fabela filed a case for reconveyance of property, as well as damages against the heirs of Neri. This pertains to so-called ―lot 868‖ in Misamis Oriental.
Apparently the subject lot belonged to grandfather Fabela back in 1924. It then became the subject of litigation between Grandpa Fabela and Grandpa Neri in connection with a Visayan agreement called ―Escritura Transaccion‖ which entrusted said lot of Fabela to Neri as vendee a retro for 14 years. After 14 years, he was bound to restore said property back to Fabella. Neri never did and so the battle began.
Decades later the Heirs of Fabela decided they wanted this lot returned. They were grossly ignored by the heirs of Neri, hence the Fabela clan took the case to the RTC.
In 1986, the RTC ruled in favor of the heirs of Fabela on two grounds:
1. The heirs of Neri failed to answer the complaint and thus were declared in default
2. The Escrittura Transaccion indicated that Neri Sr was merely a trustee and should have returned said property long ago.
The Heirs of Neri didn’t take the loss well and appealed to the CA. The CA examined the records and found that the RTC erred because in an action to recover, the plaintiff must rely on the strength of his title and not on the weakness of the defendant. It is well accepted that the possessor of the property has the presumption of title in his favor; therefore any person who claims he has a better right to property must prove he has better title than the defendant and he must properly prove the identity of the property. Apparently the RTC based its decision on the Escrittura Transaction, but the original records of such document were never found or located! Worse, it was never presented to the RTC! Plaintiff Heirs of Fabella relied on the Escrittura as the primary claim to lot 868. For all we know, it could have been a figment of their imagination.
The lack of evidence compelled the CA to reverse the RTC decision and restore the contested property to Neri.
The Heirs of Fabella contested the CA reversal and raised the issue to the SC.
Whether or not the Heirs of Fabela provided substantial evidence of ownership over the contested property.
No. Despite the default of the Heirs of Neri, the allegations of the Heirs of Fabella rested on shaky ground. The latter failed to establish their case on preponderance of evidence.
In an action for recovery of ownership, the person who claims he has a better right to property must prove not only his ownership of property, but also the identity of the land by describing the location,a area, and boundaries thereof. In the case at hand, petitioners based their claim of ownership on the 1924 Escritura de Transaccion, the original copy of which was never presented in the trial court. That was the only piece of evidence that could establish petitioner’s ownership and the identity of the subject lot.
The RTC committed travesty by guessing the appropriate boundaries of the lot that came under litigation.
Ultimately the SC affirmed the reversal of the CA on the reason that the Heirs of Fabela failed to substantiate their claim on the merits of his title.