Constructive notice in land registration; laches (stale demand); final judgment must be executed without delay - G.R. No. 185620

G.R. No. 185620

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Another thing militates against respondents’ claim of lack of knowledge of the encumbrance on their property—the separate registrations of: (1) the Notice of Levy on TCT No. T-198753; (2) the Certificate of Sale.

In this jurisdiction, we adhere to the doctrine that registration in a public registry works as constructive notice to the whole world.[34] Section 51 of Act No. 496, as amended by Section 52 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, provides:

SECTION 52. Constructive notice upon registration.—Every conveyance, mortgage, lease, lien, attachment, order, judgment, instrument or entry affecting registered land shall, if registered, filed or entered in the Office of the Register of Deeds for the province or city where the land to which it relates lies, be constructive notice to all persons from the time of such registering, filing, or entering.

And, quite undeniably, respondents had constructive notice that their property is subject of execution proceedings arising from their judgment debt and in danger of forfeiture to their judgment creditor.

Respondents consistently flouted the judgment in Civil Case No. 1245-M, as amended by the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 37808, which became final and executory on December 1, 1997, by their utter failure to respond to the processes of the RTC in the execution proceedings despite their receipt of notice at each stage thereof. At the very least, respondents’ attack on the validity of the execution proceedings, culminating in the execution sale of the subject property, is barred by laches.

Laches is the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which by exercising due diligence could or should have been done earlier; it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it.[35] Laches thus operates as a bar in equity.[36]

We hearken to the time-honored rule anchored on public policy:

[R]elief will be denied to a litigant whose claim or demand has become "stale," or who has acquiesced for an unreasonable length of time, or who has not been vigilant or who has slept on his rights either by negligence, folly or inattention. In other words, public policy requires, for peace of society, the discouragement of claims grown stale for non-assertion; thus laches is an impediment to the assertion or enforcement of a right which has become, under the circumstances, inequitable or unfair to permit.[37] (Emphasis supplied)

The records bear out that as of October 9, 1998, and on two occasions thereafter, December 10 & 28, 1998, Sheriff Legaspi served a copy of the Writ of Execution on respondents, and followed up thereon. With no action forthcoming from respondents, who are ostensibly evading payment of their judgment debt, the Sheriff correctly levied on the subject property. For more than five (5) years from the execution sale thereof, with respondents not exercising their right of redemption, up to the filing of a Motion, and subsequently, a Petition for the issuance of a new certificate of title over the property in Reyes’ name, respondents made no effort to settle their judgment debt, much less, to ascertain the status of the execution proceedings against them and the levy on, and consequent sale of, their property. Truly significant is the fact that eight (8) years had lapsed, from the time respondents received a copy of the Writ of Execution in October 1998 until they, through their new counsel, filed the Opposition and Motion in May 2006, before respondents were prodded into action.

We find obvious respondents’ brazen ploy to forestall and thwart the execution of a final and executory judgment against them. The death of their counsel, Atty. Sumawang, and their engagement of a new one, does not minimize the hard fact that respondents had notice of, not only the execution proceedings, but also, the proceedings on the issuance of a new title over the subject property. Yet, respondents did not act on any of these notices which were duly received by Atty. Sumawang. Respondents’ Motion to nullify the execution proceedings, from the levy on the subject property and sale thereof, is an afterthought, a last-ditch effort to evade payment of their judgment debt. Their claim of ignorance of the execution proceedings flies in the face of the documents on record. This bare-faced claim cannot trump the disputable presumption that a person takes ordinary care of his concerns.[38] Consequently, respondents are estopped and barred from assailing the execution proceedings before the RTC.

Time and again, we have held that once a judgment becomes final and executory, the prevailing party should not be denied the fruits of his victory by some subterfuge devised by the losing party.[39] We completely agree with the RTC’s disquisition, thus:

Finally, after [MFR] had filed the petition in question pursuant to and in compliance with the order of this court dated September 28, 2004, to which no answer or any responsive pleading was filed by respondents or thru their lawyer, as the latter was certainly notified of the proceedings in said petition, respondents cannot now assail said proceedings after keeping silent thereon for a long time, and if indeed there was neglect on the part of their lawyer in informing them of or in taking part in said proceedings, such negligence of their counsel binds them as client. There is likewise an evident lack of prudence and due diligence on the part of the respondents by their failure to inform this court of the withdrawal of their former counsel for a long period of time, and they cannot now, by feigning ignorance of the proceedings had in the petition in question, assail the same thru a new counsel. In other words, respondents cannot be allowed to keep silent on or refuse to participate in proceedings that they know were taking place in connection with a final judgment rendered against them and then suddenly, after said proceedings were long terminated, come to court to question the same through a new counsel. The respondents are clearly in estoppel. Also, the court finds no practical purpose and benefit in sustaining the theory posited by respondents which, aside from the reasons advanced earlier, will have no other effect than to further unduly delay the execution of a judgment that had long acquired finality.[40]

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Respondents are clearly estopped from assailing the proceedings in question by their failure or refusal to participate therein despite their or their counsel’s knowledge thereof, and it would be unjust for the plaintiff to allow respondents to put in issue the validity of said proceedings at this late stage, thru another counsel, as they are bound by the action or inaction of their former counsel.[41]

The Court of Appeal’s reliance on Villaceran v. Beltejar[42] is misplaced. Villaceran is an administrative case finding the Sheriff guilty of simple neglect of duty for failure to strictly comply with the rules on execution sale. We held therein that there was no substantial compliance by the Sheriff with Section 15(c), Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. Our declaration that “[n]o reason exists not to apply the principle in the extrajudicial foreclosure sales of real property (statutory requirements of posting and publication must be strictly complied with since non-compliance could constitute a jurisdictional defect that would invalidate the sale) to execution sales of real property under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court”[43] is an obiter which should not be definitive of the facts obtaining herein.

The facts of this case demonstrate respondents’ stubborn refusal to comply with the judgment against them by claiming lack of notice of the execution proceedings. We reiterate that this claim is belied by the evidence on record and cannot invalidate the enforcement and execution of a final and executory judgment of this Court. On the whole, respondents’ silence and inaction for eight (8) years from the time the subject property was validly levied upon by the RTC, bars them from claiming invalidity of the execution proceedings.

Notwithstanding the validity of the execution sale and Reyes’ consolidation of ownership over the subject property upon the lapse of the redemption period, we hold that Section 107 of Presidential Decree No. 1529 contemplates the filing of a separate and original action before the RTC, acting as a land registration court.
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