Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 183053               June 16, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE INTESTATE ESTATE OF CRISTINA AGUINALDO-SUNTAY; EMILIO A.M. SUNTAY III, Petitioner,
vs.
ISABEL COJUANGCO-SUNTAY, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

NACHURA, J.:

Unlike Pope Alexander VI1 who, faced with the impasse between Spain and Portugal, deftly and literally divided the exploration, or more appropriately, the riches of the New World by issuing the Inter Caetera,2 we are confronted with the difficult, albeit, all too familiar tale of another family imbroglio over the estate of a decedent.3

This is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 74949,4 reversing the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 78, Malolos, Bulacan, in Special Proceeding Case No. 117-M-95.5

Before anything else, we disentangle the facts.

On June 4, 1990, the decedent, Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay (Cristina), married to Dr. Federico Suntay (Federico), died intestate. In 1979, their only son, Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay (Emilio I), predeceased both Cristina and Federico. At the time of her death, Cristina was survived by her husband, Federico, and several grandchildren, including herein petitioner Emilio A.M. Suntay III (Emilio III) and respondent Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay.

During his lifetime, Emilio I was married to Isabel Cojuangco, and they begot three children, namely: herein respondent, Isabel; Margarita; and Emilio II, all surnamed Cojuangco-Suntay. Emilio Iís marriage to Isabel Cojuangco was subsequently annulled. Thereafter, Emilio I had two children out of wedlock, Emilio III and Nenita Suntay Tañedo (Nenita), by two different women, Concepcion Mendoza and Isabel Santos, respectively.

Despite the illegitimate status of Emilio III, he was reared ever since he was a mere baby, nine months old, by the spouses Federico and Cristina and was an acknowledged natural child of Emilio I. Nenita is an acknowledged natural child of Emilio I and was likewise brought up by the spouses Federico and Cristina.

As previously adverted to, the marriage between Emilio I and Isabel was annulled.6 Consequently, respondent and her siblings Margarita and Emilio II, lived with their mother on Balete Drive, Quezon City, separately from their father and paternal grandparents.

Parenthetically, after the death of Emilio I, Federico filed a petition for visitation rights over his grandchildren: respondent Isabel, Margarita, and Emilio II. Although the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Quezon City granted the petition and allowed Federico one hour of visitation monthly, initially reduced to thirty minutes, it was altogether stopped because of a manifestation filed by respondent Isabel, articulating her sentiments on the unwanted visits of her grandparents.

Significantly, Federico, after the death of his spouse, Cristina, or on September 27, 1993, adopted their illegitimate grandchildren, Emilio III and Nenita.71avvphi1

On October 26, 1995, respondent filed a petition for the issuance of letters of administration in her favor, containing the following allegations:

[A]t the time of [the decedentís] death, [she] was a resident of the Municipality of Hagonoy, Province of Bulacan; that the [decedent] left an estate of real and personal properties, with a probable gross value of P29,000,000.00; that the names, ages and residences of the surviving heirs of the [decedent] are: (1) Federico C. Suntay, 89 years old, surviving spouse and a resident of x x x; (2) Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay, 36 years old, legitimate granddaughter and a resident of x x x; (3) Margarita Cojuangco-Suntay, 39 years old, legitimate granddaughter and a resident of x x x; and (4) Emilio Cojuangco-Suntay, 35 years old, legitimate grandson and a resident of x x x; and that as far as [respondent] knew, the decedent left no debts or obligation at the time of her death.8

Disavowing the allegations in the petition of his grandchild, respondent Isabel, Federico filed his opposition on December 21, 1995, alleging, among others, that:

[B]eing the surviving spouse of Cristina, he is capable of administering her estate and he should be the one appointed as its administrator; that as part owner of the mass of conjugal properties left by Cristina, he must be accorded legal preference in the administration thereof; that Isabel and her family had been alienated from their grandparents for more than thirty (30) years; that the enumeration of heirs in the petition was incomplete as it did not mention the other children of his son[,] namely: Emilio III and Nenita S. Tañedo; that he is better situated to protect the integrity of the estate of Cristina as even before the death of his wife[,] he was already the one who managed their conjugal properties; that the probable value of the estate as stated in the petition was grossly overstated (sic); and that Isabelís allegation that some of the properties are in the hands of usurpers is untrue.9

Meanwhile, after a failed attempt by the parties to settle the proceedings amicably, Federico filed a Manifestation dated March 13, 1999, nominating his adopted son, Emilio III, as administrator of the decedentís estate on his behalf, in the event he would be adjudged as the one with a better right to the letters of administration.

Subsequently, the trial court granted Emilio IIIís Motion for Leave to Intervene considering his interest in the outcome of the case. Emilio III filed his Opposition-In-Intervention, which essentially echoed the allegations in his grandfatherís opposition, alleging that Federico, or in his stead, Emilio III, was better equipped than respondent to administer and manage the estate of the decedent, Cristina. Additionally, Emilio III averred his own qualifications that: "[he] is presently engaged in aquaculture and banking; he was trained by the decedent to work in his early age by involving him in the activities of the Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation which was established in 1979 in memory of her grandmotherís father; the significant work experiences outside the family group are included in his curriculum vitae; he was employed by the oppositor [Federico] after his graduation in college with management degree at F.C.E. Corporations and Hagonoy Rural Bank; x x x."10

In the course of the proceedings, on November 13, 2000, Federico died.

After the testimonies of both partiesí witnesses were heard and evidence on their respective allegations were adduced, the trial court rendered a decision on November 9, 2001, appointing herein petitioner, Emilio III, as administrator of decedent Cristinaís intestate estate, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the petition of Isabel Cojuangco[-]Suntay is DENIED and the Opposition[-]in[-]Intervention is GRANTED.

Accordingly, the Intervenor, Emilio A.M. Suntay, III is hereby appointed administrator of the estate of the decedent Cristina Aguinaldo Suntay, who shall enter upon the execution of his trust upon the filing of a bond in the amount of P200,000.00, conditioned as follows:

(1) To make and return within three (3) months, a true and complete inventory;

(2) To administer the estate and to pay and discharge all debts, legatees, and charge on the same, or dividends thereon;

(3) To render a true and just account within one (1) year, and at any other time when required by the court, and

(4) To perform all orders of the Court.

Once the said bond is approved by the court, let Letters of Administration be issued in his favor.

SO ORDERED.11

Aggrieved, respondent filed an appeal before the CA, which reversed and set aside the decision of the RTC, revoked the Letters of Administration issued to Emilio III, and appointed respondent as administratrix of the intestate estate of the decedent, Cristina, to wit:

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the assailed decision dated November 9, 2001 of Branch 78, Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan in SPC No. 117-M-95 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the letters of administration issued by the said court to Emilio A.M. Suntay III, if any, are consequently revoked. Petitioner Isabel Cojuangco[-]Suntay is hereby appointed administratrix of the intestate estate of Cristina Aguinaldo Suntay. Let letters of administration be issued in her favor upon her filing of a bond in the amount of Two Hundred Thousand (P200,000.00) Pesos.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.12

The motion for reconsideration of Emilio III having been denied, he appeals by certiorari to this Court, raising the following issues:

A. IN THE APPOINTMENT OF AN ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE UNDER SECTION 6 OF RULE 78 OF THE RULES OF COURT, WHETHER ARTICLE 992 OF THE CIVIL CODE APPLIES; and

B. UNDER THE UNDISPUTED FACTS WHERE HEREIN PETITIONER WAS REARED BY THE DECEDENT AND HER SPOUSE SINCE INFANCY, WHETHER ARTICLE 992 OF THE NEW CIVIL CODE APPLIES SO AS TO BAR HIM FROM BEING APPOINTED ADMINISTRATOR OF THE DECEDENTíS ESTATE.13

In ruling against the petition of herein respondent, the RTC ratiocinated, thus:

Evidence objectively assessed and carefully evaluated, both testimonial and documentary, the court opines that it is to the best interest of the estate of the decedent and all claimants thereto, that the Intervenor, Emilio A.M. Suntay III, be appointed administrator of the estate in the above-entitled special proceedings.

Based on the evidence and demeanor of the parties in court, [respondentís immediate] family and that of the decedent are apparently estranged. The root cause of which, is not for this court to ascertain nor is this the right time and the proper forum to dwell upon. What matters most at this time is the welfare of the estate of the decedent in the light of such unfortunate and bitter estrangement.

The Court honestly believes that to appoint the petitioner would go against the wishes of the decedent who raised [Emilio III] from infancy in her home in Baguio City as her own child. Certainly, it would go against the wishes of the surviving spouse x x x who nominated [Emilio III] for appointment as administrator.

As between [respondent] and the oppositor [Federico], the latter is accorded preference as the surviving spouse under Sec 6(a), Rule 78, Rules of Court. On the basis of such preference, he vigorously opposed the appointment of the petitioner and instead nominated [Emilio III], his grandchild and adopted child. Such nomination, absent any valid and justifiable reason, should not be imperiously set aside and insouciantly ignored, even after the oppositor [Federico] has passed away, in order to give effect to the order of preference mandated by law. Moreover, from the viewpoint of the estate, the nomination of [Emilio III] appear[s] intrinsically meritorious. For the benefit of the estate and its claimants, creditors, as well as heirs, the administrator should be one who is prepared, academically and by experience, for the demands and responsibilities of the position. While [respondent], a practicing physician, is not unqualified, it is clear to the court that when it comes to management of real estate and the processing and payment of debts, [Emilio III], a businessman with an established track record as a manager has a decided edge and therefore, is in a position to better handle the preservation of the estate.14

In marked contrast, the CA zeroed in on Emilio IIIís status as an illegitimate child of Emilio I and, thus, barred from representing his deceased father in the estate of the latterís legitimate mother, the decedent. On the whole, the CA pronounced that Emilio III, who was merely nominated by Federico, and which nomination hinged upon the latterís appointment as administrator of the decedentís estate, cannot be appointed as the administrator of the decedentís estate for the following reasons:15

1. The appointment of Emilio III was subject to a suspensive condition, i.e., Federicoís appointment as administrator of the estate, he being the surviving spouse of Cristina, the decedent. The death of Federico before his appointment as administrator of Cristinaís estate rendered his nomination of Emilio III inoperative;

2. As between the legitimate offspring (respondent) and illegitimate offspring (Emilio III) of decedentís son, Emilio I, respondent is preferred, being the "next of kin" referred to by Section 6, Rule 78 of the Rules of Court, and entitled to share in the distribution of Cristinaís estate as an heir;

3. Jurisprudence has consistently held that Article 99216 of the Civil Code bars the illegitimate child from inheriting ab intestato from the legitimate children and relatives of his father or mother. Thus, Emilio III, who is barred from inheriting from his grandmother, cannot be preferred over respondent in the administration of the estate of their grandmother, the decedent; and

4. Contrary to the RTCís finding, respondent is as much competent as Emilio III to administer and manage the subject estate for she possesses none of the disqualifications specified in Section 1,17 Rule 78 of the Rules of Court.

The pivotal issue in this case turns on who, as between Emilio III and respondent, is better qualified to act as administrator of the decedentís estate.

We cannot subscribe to the appellate courtís ruling excluding Emilio III in the administration of the decedentís undivided estate. Mistakenly, the CA glosses over several undisputed facts and circumstances:

1. The underlying philosophy of our law on intestate succession is to give preference to the wishes and presumed will of the decedent, absent a valid and effective will;

2. The basis for Article 992 of the Civil Code, referred to as the iron curtain bar rule,18 is quite the opposite scenario in the facts obtaining herein for the actual relationship between Federico and Cristina, on one hand, and Emilio III, on the other, was akin to the normal relationship of legitimate relatives;

3. Emilio III was reared from infancy by the decedent, Cristina, and her husband, Federico, who both acknowledged him as their grandchild;

4. Federico claimed half of the properties included in the estate of the decedent, Cristina, as forming part of their conjugal partnership of gains during the subsistence of their marriage;

5. Cristinaís properties forming part of her estate are still commingled with that of her husband, Federico, because her share in the conjugal partnership, albeit terminated upon her death, remains undetermined and unliquidated; and

6. Emilio III is a legally adopted child of Federico, entitled to share in the distribution of the latterís estate as a direct heir, one degree from Federico, not simply representing his deceased illegitimate father, Emilio I.

From the foregoing, it is patently clear that the CA erred in excluding Emilio III from the administration of the decedentís estate. As Federicoís adopted son, Emilio IIIís interest in the estate of Cristina is as much apparent to this Court as the interest therein of respondent, considering that the CA even declared that "under the law, [Federico], being the surviving spouse, would have the right of succession over a portion of the exclusive property of the decedent, aside from his share in the conjugal partnership." Thus, we are puzzled why the CA resorted to a strained legal reasoning Ė Emilio IIIís nomination was subject to a suspensive condition and rendered inoperative by reason of Federicoís death Ė wholly inapplicable to the case at bar.

Section 6, Rule 78 of the Rules of Court lists the order of preference in the appointment of an administrator of an estate:

SEC. 6. When and to whom letters of administration granted. Ė If no executor is named in the will, or the executor or executors are incompetent, refuse the trust, or fail to give bond, or a person dies intestate, administration shall be granted:

(a) To the surviving husband or wife, as the case may be, or next of kin, or both, in the discretion of the court, or to such person as such surviving husband or wife, or next of kin, requests to have appointed, if competent and willing to serve;

(b) If such surviving husband or wife, as the case may be, or next of kin, or the person selected by them, be incompetent or unwilling, or if the husband or widow, or next of kin, neglects for thirty (30) days after the death of the person to apply for administration or to request that administration be granted to some other person, it may be granted to one or more of the principal creditors, if competent and willing to serve;

(c) If there is no such creditor competent and willing to serve, it may be granted to such other person as the court may select.

However, the order of preference is not absolute for it depends on the attendant facts and circumstances of each case.19 Jurisprudence has long held that the selection of an administrator lies in the sound discretion of the trial court.20 In the main, the attendant facts and circumstances of this case necessitate, at the least, a joint administration by both respondent and Emilio III of their grandmotherís, Cristinaís, estate.

In the case of Uy v. Court of Appeals,21 we upheld the appointment by the trial court of a co-administration between the decedentís son and the decedentís brother, who was likewise a creditor of the decedentís estate. In the same vein, we declared in Delgado Vda. de De la Rosa v. Heirs of Marciana Rustia Vda. de Damian22 that:

[i]n the appointment of an administrator, the principal consideration is the interest in the estate of the one to be appointed. The order of preference does not rule out the appointment of co-administrators, specially in cases where justice and equity demand that opposing parties or factions be represented in the management of the estates, a situation which obtains here.

Similarly, the subject estate in this case calls to the succession other putative heirs, including another illegitimate grandchild of Cristina and Federico, Nenita Tañedo, but who was likewise adopted by Federico, and the two (2) siblings of respondent Isabel, Margarita and Emilio II. In all, considering the conflicting claims of the putative heirs, and the unliquidated conjugal partnership of Cristina and Federico which forms part of their respective estates, we are impelled to move in only one direction, i.e., joint administration of the subject estate.

One final note. Counsel for petitioner meticulously argues that Article 992 of the Civil Code, the successional bar between the legitimate and illegitimate relatives of a decedent, does not apply in this instance where facts indubitably demonstrate the contrary Ė Emilio III, an illegitimate grandchild of the decedent, was actually treated by the decedent and her husband as their own son, reared from infancy, educated and trained in their businesses, and eventually legally adopted by decedentís husband, the original oppositor to respondentís petition for letters of administration.

We are not unmindful of the critiques of civilists of a conflict and a lacuna in the law concerning the bone of contention that is Article 992 of the Civil Code, beginning with the eminent Justice J.B.L. Reyes:

In the Spanish Civil Code of 1889 the right of representation was admitted only within the legitimate family; so much so that Article 943 of that Code prescribed that an illegitimate child can not inherit ab intestato from the legitimate children and relatives of his father and mother. The Civil Code of the Philippines apparently adhered to this principle since it reproduced Article 943 of the Spanish Code in its own Art. 992, but with fine inconsistency, in subsequent articles (990, 995 and 998) our Code allows the hereditary portion of the illegitimate child to pass to his own descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate. So that while Art. 992 prevents the illegitimate issue of a legitimate child from representing him in the intestate succession of the grandparent, the illegitimates of an illegitimate child can now do so. This difference being indefensible and unwarranted, in the future revision of the Civil Code we shall have to make a choice and decide either that the illegitimate issue enjoys in all cases the right of representation, in which case Art. 992 must be suppressed; or contrariwise maintain said article and modify Articles 995 and 998. The first solution would be more in accord with an enlightened attitude vis-à-vis illegitimate children.23

Manresa explains the basis for the rules on intestate succession:

The law [of intestacy] is foundedÖ on the presumed will of the deceasedÖ Love, it is said, first descends, then ascends, and, finally, spreads sideways. Thus, the law first calls the descendants, then the ascendants, and finally the collaterals, always preferring those closer in degree to those of remoter degrees, on the assumption that the deceased would have done so had he manifested his last willÖ Lastly, in default of anyone called to succession or bound to the decedent by ties of blood or affection, it is in accordance with his presumed will that his property be given to charitable or educational institutions, and thus contribute to the welfare of humanity.24

Indeed, the factual antecedents of this case accurately reflect the basis of intestate succession, i.e., love first descends, for the decedent, Cristina, did not distinguish between her legitimate and illegitimate grandchildren. Neither did her husband, Federico, who, in fact, legally raised the status of Emilio III from an illegitimate grandchild to that of a legitimate child. The peculiar circumstances of this case, painstakingly pointed out by counsel for petitioner, overthrow the legal presumption in Article 992 of the Civil Code that there exist animosity and antagonism between legitimate and illegitimate descendants of a deceased.

Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that judicial restraint impels us to refrain from making a final declaration of heirship and distributing the presumptive shares of the parties in the estates of Cristina and Federico, considering that the question on who will administer the properties of the long deceased couple has yet to be settled.

Our holding in Capistrano v. Nadurata25 on the same issue remains good law:

[T]he declaration of heirs made by the lower court is premature, although the evidence sufficiently shows who are entitled to succeed the deceased. The estate had hardly been judicially opened, and the proceeding has not as yet reached the stage of distribution of the estate which must come after the inheritance is liquidated.

Section 1, Rule 90 of the Rules of Court does not depart from the foregoing admonition:

Sec. 1. When order for distribution of residue is made. Ė x x x. If there is a controversy before the court as to who are the lawful heirs of the deceased person or as to the distributive shares to which each person is entitled under the law, the controversy shall be heard and decided as in ordinary cases.

No distribution shall be allowed until the payment of the obligations above mentioned has been made or provided for, unless the distributees, or any of them, give a bond, in a sum to be fixed by the court, conditioned for the payment of said obligations within such time as the court directs.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 74949 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Letters of Administration over the estate of decedent Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay shall issue to both petitioner Emilio A.M. Suntay III and respondent Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay upon payment by each of a bond to be set by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, Malolos, Bulacan, in Special Proceeding Case No. 117-M-95. The Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, Malolos, Bulacan is likewise directed to make a determination and to declare the heirs of decedent Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay according to the actual factual milieu as proven by the parties, and all other persons with legal interest in the subject estate. It is further directed to settle the estate of decedent Cristina Aguinaldo-Suntay with dispatch. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice
ROBERTO A. ABAD
Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ*
Associate Justice

A T T E S T A T I O N

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courtís Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson, Second Division

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courtís Division.

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice


Footnotes

* Additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Jose C. Mendoza per Special Order No. 842 dated June 3, 2010.

1 Formerly Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, before ascending to the religious title of Pope and assuming the name Alexander VI.

2 The Papal Bull which drew a longitudinal line (one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands) and bestowed all non-Christian lands west thereof to Spain, and east of the line to Portugal.

3 In The Family, a book with a factual core on the Borgia family of 15th Century Rome, Mario Puzo recounts that the ostensibly fair and just papal ruling actually favored Spain and placed Portugal at a disadvantage because papal intervention and arbitration of the matter was made at the behest of King Ferdinand of Spain. More importantly, Pope Alexander VI was originally a Catalan who, at the start of his career as a cleric in Italy, conveniently changed his name from the Spanish "Borja" to the Italian "Borgia" to gain acceptance and credibility as an authentic Roman clergy.

4 Penned by Associate Justice Sesinando E. Villon, with Associate Justices Martin S. Villarama, Jr. (now a member of this Court) and Noel G. Tijam, concurring; rollo, pp. 20-32.

5 Penned by Judge Gregorio S. Sampaga; rollo, pp. 35-60.

6 Rollo, p. 43.

7 Id. at 137-138.

8 Id. at 35.

9 Id. at 21-22.

10 Id. at 58.

11 Id. at 60.

12 Id. at 31-32.

13 Memorandum of petitioner; id. at 195.

14 Rollo, pp. 59-60.

15 Id. at 25-31.

16 Art. 992. An illegitimate child has no right to inherit ab intestato from the legitimate children and relatives of his father or mother; nor shall such children or relatives inherit in the same manner from the illegitimate child.

17 Sec.1. Who are incompetent to serve as executors or administrators. Ė No person is competent to serve as executor or administrator who:

(a) Is a minor;

(b) Is not a resident of the Philippines; and

(c) Is in the opinion of the court unfit to execute the duties of the trust by reason of drunkenness, improvidence, or want of understanding or integrity, or by reason of conviction of an offense involving moral turpitude.

18 Called as such because the law does not recognize the natural tie of blood and is based on the presumed intervening antagonism and incompatibility between the legitimate and illegitimate family of a deceased. See Diaz v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. L-66574, June 17, 1987, 150 SCRA 645.

19 See Uy v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 167979, March 16, 2006, 484 SCRA 699; Gabriel v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 101512, August 7, 1992, 212 SCRA 413; Capistrano v. Nadurata, 46 Phil. 726 (1922).

20 See Uy v. Court of Appeals, supra; Gabriel v. Court of Appeals, supra; Capistrano v. Nadurata, supra.

21 Supra note 19.

22 G.R. No. 155733, January 27, 2006, 480 SCRA 334, 360. (Citations omitted.)

23 Reflections on the Reform of Hereditary Succession, JOURNAL of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, First Quarter (1976), Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 40-41; cited in Diaz v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 66574, February 21, 1990, 182 SCRA 427, 434; and Diaz v. Intermediate Appellate Court, supra note 18, at 651.

24 Cited in BALANE, Jottings and Jurisprudence (1998), p. 368.

25 Supra note at 19, at 728.


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