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The rights of an informal settler.

Krisyl paid P400 to Pearl for the rights over a 250-square meter lot in Barrio Payatas, Quezon City.

Krisyl then constructed a house made of light materials on the lot. She and her family lived in the house she built.

Years later, Krisyl executed a kasunduan with Harly. In the said agreement, Krisyl, as owner of the house, allowed Harly to live in the house for free provided the latter would maintain the cleanliness and orderliness of the house. Harly even promised he would voluntarily vacate the premises on Krisyl's demand.

A year after, Krisyl told Harly that she needed the house and gave him 15 days to vacate the house she built. Harly refused. He claimed that Krisyl has no valid title or right of possession over the lot where the house stands.

'A squatter like you has no right,' Harly exclaimed.

Q: Can Krisyl sue Harly for unlawful detainer even if she is not the registered owner of the land?

A: Yes. Harly's 'claim of ownership of the disputed property will not divest the inferior court of its jurisdiction over the ejectment case.

Even if the pleadings raise the issue of ownership, the court may pass on such issue to determine only the question of possession, especially if the ownership is inseparably linked with the possession.

The adjudication on the issue of ownership is only provisional and will not bar an action between the same parties involving title to the land.

This doctrine is a necessary consequence of the nature of the two summary actions of ejectment, forcible entry and unlawful detainer, where the only issue for adjudication is the physical or material possession over the real property.

xxx xxx xxx.

Ownership or the right to possess arising from ownership is not at issue in an action for recovery of possession.

The parties cannot present evidence to prove ownership or right to legal possession except to prove the nature of the possession when necessary to resolve the issue of physical possession. The same is true when the defendant asserts the absence of title over the property.

The absence of title over the contested lot is not a ground for the courts to withhold relief from the parties in an ejectment case.' (Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146364, June 3, 2004)

Q: Will the courts be deprived of its power to hear and decide an unlawful detainer case if the government owned the land in dispute and did not authorize the plaintiff or the defendant to occupy the land?

A: No, courts have jurisdiction to entertain ejectment suits even before the resolution of the application.

While the Court did not brand the plaintiff and the defendant in Pitargue as squatters, strictly speaking, their entry into the disputed land was illegal.

Both the plaintiff and defendant entered the public land without the owner's permission. Title to the land remained with the government because it had not awarded to anyone ownership of the contested public land.

Both the plaintiff and the defendant were in effect squatting on government property.

Yet, the courts' jurisdiction to resolve the issue of possession even if the plaintiff and the defendant in the ejectment case did not have any title over the contested land. (Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146364, June 3, 2004, citing the case of Pitargue vs. Sorilla, 92 Phil. 5)

Q: Why does the law grant an informal settler the right to seek judicial redress under the above circumstances?

A: If courts were deprived of jurisdiction of cases involving conflicts of possession, that threat of judicial action against breaches of the peace committed on public lands would be eliminated, and a state of lawlessness would probably be produced between applicants, occupants or squatters, where force or might, not right or justice, would rule. (Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146364, June 3, 2004, citing the case of Pitargue vs. Sorilla, 92 Phil. 5)

Q: Is the doctrine of in pari delicto applicable in this ejectment case?

A: No, it is not applicable. The rule of pari delicto is expressed in the maxims 'ex dolo malo non eritur actio' and 'in pari delicto potior est conditio defedentis.' The law will not aid either party to an illegal agreement. It leaves the parties where it finds them.

The application of the pari delicto principle is not absolute, as there are exceptions to its application. One of these exceptions is where the application of the pari delicto rule would violate well-established public policy.

xxx xxx xxx

Clearly, the application of the principle of pari delicto to a case of ejectment between squatters is fraught with danger. To shut out relief to squatters on the ground of pari delicto would openly invite mayhem and lawlessness.

A squatter would oust another squatter from possession of the lot that the latter had illegally occupied, emboldened by the knowledge that the courts would leave them where they are. Nothing would then stand in the way of the ousted squatter from re-claiming his prior possession at all cost.

Petty warfare over possession of properties is precisely what ejectment cases or actions for recovery of possession seek to prevent. Even the owner who has title over the disputed property cannot take the law into his own hands to regain possession of his property. The owner must go to court.

Courts must resolve the issue of possession even if the parties to the ejectment suit are squatters. The determination of priority and superiority of possession is a serious and urgent matter that cannot be left to the squatters to decide.

To do so would make squatters receive better treatment under the law. The law restrains property owners from taking the law into their own hands.

However, the principle of pari delicto xxx xxx xxx would give squatters free rein to dispossess fellow squatters or violently retake possession of properties usurped from them.

Courts should not leave squatters to their own devices in cases involving recovery of possession. (Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146364, June 3, 2004, citing the case of Pitargue vs. Sorilla, 92 Phil. 5)

Q: How will the award of the possession of the land to page affect the ownership thereof?

A: The ruling on the issue of physical possession does not affect title to the property nor constitute a binding and conclusive adjudication on the merits on the issue of ownership. The owner can still go to court to recover lawfully the property from the person who holds the property without legal title.

The ruling of the Supreme Court 'does not diminish the power of government agencies, including local governments, to condemn, abate, remove or demolish illegal or unauthorized structures in accordance with existing laws.' (Pajuyo vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146364, June 3, 2004)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is currently the Dean of College of Law, Lyceum of the Philippines University; and President of Philippine Association of Law Schools
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jan 28, 2017
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