Possession comes in different forms.
He got the shock of his life when he discovered that Gabby stealthily intruded and occupied a portion of his property by constructing a residential house thereon without his knowledge and consent.
Charlie was left without a choice but to file a complaint for forcible entry when Gabby refused to vacate the land. In the course of the court proceedings, Gabby claimed, among others, that the complaint for forcible entry should be dismissed because Charlie was not able to prove that he was in prior actual possession of the property occupied by him-an indispensable requirement in forcible entry cases.
Q: What is unlawful detainer? What is forcible entry? What are the differences between the two?
A: Forcible entry and unlawful detainer are two distinct causes of action defined in Section 1, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court. In forcible entry, one is deprived of physical possession of any land or building by means of force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth. In unlawful detainer, one unlawfully withholds possession thereof after the expiration or termination of his right to hold possession under any contract, express or implied.
In forcible entry, the possession is illegal from the beginning and the only issue is who has the prior possession de facto. In unlawful detainer, possession was originally lawful but became unlawful by the expiration or termination of the right to possess and the issue of rightful possession is the one decisive, for in such action, the defendant is the party in actual possession and the plaintiff's cause of action is the termination of the defendant's right to continue in possession.
Thus, it is the nature of defendant's entry into the land which determines the cause of action, whether it is forcible entry or unlawful detainer.
If the entry is illegal, then the action which may be filed against the intruder is forcible entry. If, however, the entry is legal but the possession thereafter becomes illegal, the case is unlawful detainer.
Accordingly, in forcible entry, the plaintiff must allege in the complaint and prove that he was in prior physical possession of the property in litigation until he was deprived thereof by the defendant, but in unlawful detainer, the plaintiff need not have prior physical possession of the property, or, elsewise stated, prior physical possession is not an indispensable requirement in an unlawful detainer case.
Q: What should Charlie do in order for his forcible entry suit to prosper?
A: Charlie must must allege and prove: (a) that he has prior physical possession of the property; (b) that he was deprived of possession either by force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth; and, (c) that the action was filed within one (1) year from the time the owner or legal possessor learned of their deprivation of the physical possession of the property.
Q: What is the issue to be resolved in both unlawful detainer and forcible entry cases?
A: There is only one issue in ejectment proceedings: who is entitled to physical or material possession of the premises, that is, to possession de facto, not possession de jure.
Issues as to the right of possession or ownership are not involved in the action; evidence thereon is not admissible, except only for the purpose of determining the issue of possession.
Q: What does 'possession' entail?
A: As a rule, the word 'possession' in forcible entry suits indeed refers to nothing more than prior physical possession or possession de facto, not possession de jure or legal possession in the sense contemplated in civil law. Title is not the issue, and the absence of it 'is not a ground for the courts to withhold relief from the parties in an ejectment case.'
Q: Will Charlie's complaint be dismissed if he would not be able to show to the court that he had prior possession of the La Union property?
A: No, his complaint for forcible entry will not be dismissed. Possession can be acquired by juridical acts. These are acts to which the law gives the force of acts of possession.
Examples of these are donations, succession, execution and registration of public instruments, inscription of possessory information titles and the like. The reason for this exceptional rule is that possession in the eyes of the law does not mean that a man has to have his feet on every square meter of ground before it can be said that he is in possession.
It is sufficient that petitioner was able to subject the property to the action of his will. Hence, juridical acts are sufficient to establish one's prior possession of the subject property. As far as Charlie is concerned, the fact that he acquired possession of the subject property by juridical act, specifically, through the issuance of a free patent.
Q: Is the issue of ownership material and relevant in forcible entry cases?
A: As a rule, no. However, the issue of ownership shall be resolved in deciding the issue of possession if the question of possession is intertwined with the issue of ownership.
Q: What documentary evidence can Charlie submit to prove that he has prior possession of the subject land?
A: His certificate of title evidences ownership and from it, a right to the possession of the property flows. Well-entrenched is the rule that a person who has a Torrens title over the property is entitled to the possession thereof.
Charlie's claim of possession is moreover coupled with tax declarations. While tax declarations are not conclusive proof of possession of a parcel of land, they are good indicia of possession in the concept of an owner, for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in his actual or constructive possession.
Together with the Torrens title, the tax declarations strengthen Charlie's claim of possession over the land before his dispossession.