Remedial Law

Heirs of Teofilo Gabatan vs. Court of Appeals

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G.R. No. 150206 – 581 SCRA 70 – 600 Phil. 112 – Remedial Law – Special Proceedings – Settlement of Estate – Jurisdiction of Probate Courts; Declaration of heirship can only be made in a special proceedings and not in an ordinary civil action; Exception – Practicality

In 1934, Juan Gabatan died and his only property was thereafter occupied and possessed by his brother, Teofilo Gabatan. Teofilo eventually died and he was succeeded by his children.

In 1989, Lourdes Pacana filed an action for recovery of property and ownership against the heirs of Teofilo. She claimed that she is the rightful owner of the property left by Juan because she is the granddaughter of Juan. She averred that her mother, Hermogena Gabatan was the child of Juan with Laureana Clarito. To prove her allegation, she presented a certificate of live birth.

The RTC ruled in favor of Lourdes. The Court of Appeals affirmed the RTC.

ISSUE: Whether or not the RTC, in this case, may make a declaration of heirship.

HELD: Yes. This is one of the exceptions.

As a rule, the determination of who are the legal heirs of the deceased must be made in the proper special proceedings in court, and not in an ordinary suit for recovery of ownership and possession of property.

One exception to the general rule is practicality. In the present case, there appears to be only one parcel of land being claimed by the contending parties as their inheritance from Juan Gabatan. It would be more practical to dispense with a separate special proceeding for the determination of the status of respondent as the sole heir of Juan Gabatan, specially in light of the fact that the parties to Civil Case No. 89-092, had voluntarily submitted the issue to the RTC and already presented their evidence regarding the issue of heirship in these proceeding. Also the RTC assumed jurisdiction over the same and consequently rendered judgment thereon.

As per the evidence adduced, contrary to the ruling of the RTC, the SC found that the birth certificate presented by Lourdes was tampered. As such, she had no proof that she is an heir. The RTC and the CA were reversed by the SC.

NOTE 1: The SC resolved not to direct the parties to undergo special proceedings for practicality sake. Lower courts, when confronted with the same issue may dismiss the case and direct the parties to undergo the proper proceeding. The SC, in this case, in the interest of justice liberally took the cudgels to resolve the issue on heirship.

NOTE 2: This was reversed by the Supreme Court in Treyes vs. Larlar insofar as it recognized that prior determination of heirship in a special proceedings is required before assertion of right as an heir may be had.

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