Dear Atty. Peachy,
My husband and I bought a house and lot in Puerto Princesa City while we were starting out as a couple and initially planned to establish our residence there. Our plans, however, changed when my husband obtained a scholarship in Japan and was eventually able to work there. Six months after we left Puerto Princesa City, my cousin asked me if she can temporarily stay in our house and lot with her family. She and her family stayed there for about 3 years until they were able to find a place of their own. Last month, my husband and I went back to Puerto Princesa to attend a reunion and to visit our property. One of our former classmates expressed interest in buying our property after learning from us that we intend to stay in Japan for good. While we were processing the sale, we learned that the seller sold the house and lot again to a balikbayan couple and the couple succeeded to register the sale and obtain a transfer certificate of title over the property in their name. Can we have the transfer of certificate of title canceled on the ground that the second deed of sale was null and void because the seller could not have validly transferred ownership of the property to the second buyer, he being no longer the owner after having already sold it to us?
It depends on whether or not the second buyer is an innocent purchaser for value. An innocent purchaser for value is one who buys the property of another without notice that some other person has a right to or interest in it, and who pays a full and fair price at the time of the purchase or before receiving any notice of another person’s claim (Rufloe, et al. v. Burgos, et. al., G.R. 143573, 30 January 2009).
Under the Torrens System, a deed or instrument operated only as a contract between the parties and as evidence of authority to the Register of Deeds to make the registration. It is the registration of the deed or the instrument that is the operative act that conveys or affects the land (Sec. 51, P.D. No. 1529 or the Property Registration Decree). In cases of double sale of titled land, it is a well-settled rule that the buyer who first registers the sale in good faith acquires a better right to the land (Art. 1544, Civil Code). Any buyer or mortgagee of realty covered by a Torrens certificate of title, in the absence of any suspicion, is not obligated to look beyond the certificate to investigate the titles of the seller appearing on the face of the certificate. And, he is charged with notice only of such burdens and claims as are annotated on the title (Spouses Peralta vs Heirs of Abalon, G.R. 183448, 30 June 2014).
Absent any showing that the second buyers knew about or ought to have known the prior sale of the house and lot to you and your husband or that they acted in bad faith, the second buyer acquired a good and a clean title to the property as against you.
Atty. Peachy Selda-Gregorio
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