THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 126371            April 17, 2002

JAIME BUSTAMANTE and SALVACION ABABAN BUSTAMANTE, petitioners,
vs.
HON. COURT OF APPEALS, HON.RENATO A. FUENTES, in his capacity as Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, VICTORIA P. VDA. DE ABABAN, TERESITA P. ABABAN, EVELYN P. ABABAN-ADLAWAN, NARCISA P. ABABAN, ANITA ABABAN and NORBERTO PARALISAN, in his capacity as Deputy Sheriff of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, respondents.

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

Before this Court is a petition assailing the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals, dated April 30, 1996 in C.A.-G.R. SP No. 37983. The Decision affirmed the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction by the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, in its Orders2 dated April 24, 1995, June 15, 1995 and May 10, 1995 in Civil Case No. 23078-94.

Antecedent Facts

On August 8, 1994, private respondents filed with the trial court a Complaint for Recovery of Possession, Damages and Attorneyís Fees with Preliminary Mandatory Injunction3 involving a parcel of land designated as Lot 105, Block 20 ("Lot" for brevity), and the buildings thereon ("Buildings" for brevity), located at San Antonio Village, Matina, Davao City.

In their complaint, private respondents averred the following: (1) title to the Lot4 is registered in the name of Mindanao Realty Corporation ("MRC" for brevity); (2) respondent Victoria Ababan and her late husband, Martin Ababan ("Ababan Spouses" for brevity), acquired possessory rights over the Lot in 1950; (2) the Ababan Spouses are the rightful claimants or occupants of the Lot; (3) the Ababan Spouses built the original Buildings thereon; (4) the Ababan Spouses merely allowed and tolerated petitioners to use and take physical possession of the Lot in November 1991 upon petitionersí request because they had no place of residence; and (5) petitioner Jaime Bustamante, the son-in-law of the Ababan Spouses, subsequently began to claim the Lot and Buildings by making it appear in the records of MRC that he was the claimant or occupant of the Lot.

Private respondents prayed that a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction be issued enjoining petitioners from claiming the Lot and Buildings, that judgment be rendered after trial in their favor, and that the mandatory injunction be made permanent. Alternatively, private respondents prayed that petitioners be made to surrender to private respondents the peaceful possession of the Lot and Buildings and to pay a monthly rental of P5,000.00 from November 1991 until the case is terminated.1‚wphi1.nÍt

In their Answer with Compulsory Counterclaim5 dated September 12, 1994, petitioners denied that private respondents were the rightful possessors of the Lot and Buildings. Petitioners countered that the lawful possession of the Lot and ownership of the Buildings belonged to them since they had introduced the improvements on the Lot consisting of two houses and a surrounding eight-foot wall made of hollow blocks. Petitioners alleged that private respondents, who reside at the latterís ancestral home in Aurora Quezon Boulevard, Davao City, had never occupied the Lot and Buildings and that private respondents maliciously filed the present suit due to a family feud. Petitioners prayed that the present action be dismissed and that, if they are evicted, private respondents be ordered to reimburse them P500,000.00 as cost of improvements, and for damages.

Subsequently, private respondents filed a Motion for Preliminary Prohibitory Injunction and a Temporary Restraining Order6 on November 14, 1994 alleging that petitioners, as part of their scheme to oust private respondents to the great damage of the latter, have been trying to introduce additional improvements on the Buildings. Private respondents also claimed that petitioners are leasing portions of the Buildings to third parties and that petitioners are attempting to lease more areas of the Buildings. Further, private respondents claim that petitioners have been disposing various equipment located on the Lot without private respondentsí consent. Private respondents therefore prayed that the trial court issue a temporary restraining order and, thereafter, a writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction enjoining petitioners from committing the said acts.

On December 12, 1994, the trial court held a hearing for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction at which petitioners and private respondents presented their evidence. The trial court, in its Order dated April 24, 1995, denied private respondentsí prayer for preliminary mandatory injunction to eject petitioners but granted the prayer for preliminary injunction upon the posting of a P100,000.00 bond by private respondents.

The trial courtís Order7 states in part:

"Finally, the court, cannot allow disposition of defendants in the premises in question, at this stage of the proceedings, without affording defendants opportunity, to remain thereat subject to the condition, defendants are no longer allowed to collect rentals of the lessees in the premises but will themselves pay a reasonable rent of their occupation in the building, they are presently occupying, upon agreement with plaintiffs particularly Victoria Ababan or if said agreement cannot be reached, shall be determined by this court, on a reasonable rentals as that decided in the case of Merville Park Homeowners Assn. Inc. vs. Velez 196 SCRA 189, it was held:

'Injunction may issue pendente lite only in cases of extreme emergency, where the right to the possession, during the pendency of the main case, of the property involved is very clear; where considerations of relative inconvenience bear strongly in favor of the complainant seeking the possession pendente lite; where there was willful and unlawful invasion of plaintiffs rights over his protest and remonstrance, the injury being a continuing one; where the effect of the preliminary mandatory injunction is to re-establish and maintain a pre-existing and continuing relationship between the parties, recently and arbitrarily interrupted by the defendants, rather than to establish a new relationship during the pendency of the principal case.í

Accordingly, defendants, Jaime and Salvacion Bustamante are ordered to desist, refrain and prohibit from collecting rentals from the lessees in the buildings in question, said right is vested with plaintiff, Victoria Ababan, or her duly authorized representative, during the pendency of this case.

Moreover, defendants, are likewise prohibited from making any further improvements in the premises, as well as refrain in entering into any contract for the disposition of said property in favor of any third party, during the pendency of this case.

However, for lack of justifiable ground and basis, plaintiffís prayer, for issuance of writ of preliminary mandatory injunction, is denied.

Defendants will continue to occupy in the building they are presently residing, upon payment of a reasonable rentals that maybe agreed with plaintiff, Victoria Ababan.

WHEREFORE, finding plaintiffs through counsel, prayer for issuance of writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction, proper and supported with preponderance of evidence, is granted.

However, before the actual issuance of the writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction, plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 58, Sec. 4 of the new rules of court, is required to post a bond in the amount of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P100,000.00) either in cash or undertaken by a qualified and duly accredited bonding surety company, with sufficient qualification and amount, as maybe approved by this court, to answer to any such damages, defendants will suffer, by reason of the issuance of the writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction prayed for, if plaintiffs is found not entitled to its issuance.

SO ORDERED." (Emphasis supplied)

On May 4, 1995, private respondents filed a bond duly approved by the trial court, in accordance with the foregoing Order. On May 10, 1995, the trial court issued a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining petitioners, as follows:

"NOW, THEREFORE, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, and until further orders from this court, defendants Spouses Jaime Bustamante and Salvacion Ababan Bustamante, their agents, privies, representatives, assignees, or persons acting upon or in their place and stand, are ENJOINED AND RESTRAINED, from collecting rentals from the lessees in the building in question, likewise defendants are prohibited from making any improvements in the premises as well as refrain in entering into any contract for the disposition of said property in favor of any third party, or to do any act or acts prejudicial to the rights and interests of plaintiffs over the property in question.

SO ORDERED."8

Petitioners subsequently filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated May 19, 1995, assailing the portion of the writ of preliminary injunction that required them to desist from collecting rentals from existing lessees and directed them to pay reasonable rent to private respondents. Petitioners asked the trial court to set aside or modify its Order dated April 24, 1995 as well as the writ of preliminary injunction. Private respondents filed on June 9, 1995 an Opposition to the motion, to which petitioners filed their Reply on June 13, 1995. On June 15, 1995, the trial court denied petitionerís Motion for Reconsideration for being devoid of merit. On July 31, 1995, petitioners filed a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition before the Court of Appeals seeking to annul the trial courtís Orders dated April 24, 1995 and June 15, 1995, and the writ of preliminary injunction dated May 10, 1995.

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The appellate court affirmed the Orders of the trial court and dismissed the petition for certiorari and prohibition on the ground that the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction is addressed to the sound discretion of the court, and that such discretion should not be interfered with absent any showing of manifest abuse of discretion. The dispositive portion of the Court of Appeals decision dated April 30, 1996 states:

"WHEREFORE, the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition is DISMISSED, and the Orders of April 24, 1995, June 15, 1995, and May 10, 1995 of the RTC-Davao City, Branch 17, in Civil Case No, 23078-94, are hereby AFFIRMED. Our Resolution of August 10, 1995, restraining the enforcement of the Order of April 24, 1995, insofar as it restrains the respondents from collecting rentals, is LIFTED and SET ASIDE."9

The Issues

The petitioners raise the following issues:

1. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION, IN ISSUING THE ORDERS DATED APRIL 24, 1995 AND JUNE 15, 1995, AND THE WRIT OF PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION DATED MAY 10, 1995; AND

2. WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS, IN AFFIRMING THE TRIAL COURTíS ORDERS AND WRIT OF PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION.

The Court will deal only with the questioned writ of preliminary injunction and not with the merits of the civil case still pending with the trial court.

The Ruling of the Court

The petition is partly meritorious.

Generally, the grant or denial of a writ of preliminary injunction in a pending case rests in the sound discretion of the court taking cognizance of the case.10 The assessment and evaluation of evidence in the issuance of the writ of preliminary injunction involve findings of facts ordinarily left to the trial court for its conclusive determination.11

A perusal of the Order dated April 24, 1995 shows that the trial court carefully enumerated and reviewed the evidence presented by both parties during the hearing for the issuance of the preliminary injunction. The Order cites and explains some of the evidence adduced before the trial court in this wise:

"During the hearing for issuance of preliminary prohibitory injunction on December 12, 1994, plaintiffs witness Atty. Camilo Naraval, was presented and testified; on the basis of an affidavit executed by him, showing Spouses Martin Ababan (deceased) and Victoria Ababan, acquired among others, a property situated at Tadao Nambu Estate fronting the GSIS at 111 MacArthur Highway, Davao City familiar to him as former counsel of Spouses Martin Ababan.

The Spouses, built a small house in 1950 and later introduced various improvements therein.

The subject property was used as a storage and repair station of plaintiffsí carnival equipments, converted later into an auto care shop and later was leased to Dra. Bacacao by plaintiffs parents.

Upon questions of the court, Atty. Naraval declared, the premises, is about 400 to 500 sq. m. The small house earlier built was dismantled and a semi-garage, was constructed by plaintiff. He saw Spouses Ababan, personally constructed the house in question because he used to frequent the premises, even before he became a lawyer, sometime in 1950, until later when he was already a lawyer, he saw the building constructed by Spouses Ababan."

xxx

Apart from the testimony of defendants, supporting their claim as owners of the subject properties, the record is bereft of any evidence to prove defendants, were the ones who constructed the buildings on the subject lot.

It is highly improbable, a competent and reliable carpenter, will assume the responsibility, to construct a not simple building but rather expensive infrastructure, without any plan and specification, situated in a metropolitan place, like Davao City, only relying on his mere estimate, to guide him in the construction, further negated by his disregard of knowing or verifying whether or not, defendants has secured a building permit, a condition that must be complied with before any construction is began, more in keeping with the provision of law and regulation. Common sense will tell, the scope of a carpenterís work, is limited to a mere remodeling or simply repairing portion of a building, acting alone, without the supervision of a professional.

xxx

The record will show, defendants admitted they were living initially in the house of their parents at Aurora Boulevard, Davao City but later asked permission from their parents to construct a house in the lot in question, with prior information however from defendantsí father, Martin Ababan, that said lot is under a prior claim of her father. Moreover, defendants even in her testimony alleged, she constructed the house in question but she even do not know how big the area of the lot in question, other than alleging, the area actually utilized for the building, is more or less 200 sq.m., without specifying, what the remaining portion of the lot in question was intended, consisting of more or less 500 sq.m. (TSN, pp. 65-66, hearing on February 21, 1995 answer of Salvacion Bustamante to the question of the court)

The other point, it was not shown with clear and concrete evidence of defendants, the exact and accurate salary of Jaime Bustamante out of his job abroad, justifying defendants financial capability to construct three buildings, consisting of concrete structure and from Exh. 1 of defendants themselves, shows massive and huge cash investments, requiring sufficient financial capacity, to defray not by presumed resources of his salary in dollars, without clearly proving the exact amount, through competent evidence."12

Clearly, the trial court found sufficient basis to conclude that the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction in favor of private respondents was necessary. The trial court held that the requisites for the injunction to issue were adequately established, namely, the existence of a clear and unmistakable right, and the acts violative of said right which the injunction should enjoin.13

Findings of fact by trial courts receive great respect, and the instant petition fails to provide strong and cogent reasons why this Court should overturn such findings. Moreover, petitioners are assailing the preliminary injunction mainly on the ground that it allegedly goes beyond the mere preservation of the status quo between the parties. In their Motion for Reconsideration, petitioners did not contest the trial courtís prohibition against the making of further improvements on the Lot and Buildings, the leasing out of additional portions of the Buildings and from entering into any contract for the disposition of the Lot and Buildings for the duration of the trial.14

Consequently, we uphold the trial courtís issuance of the writ of preliminary injunction on these matters.

We find, however, the trial courtís order requiring petitioners to pay reasonable rent to private respondents, and vesting in the latter the right to collect rentals from existing lessees, a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

A preliminary injunction is a provisional remedy, an adjunct to the main case subject to the latterís outcome. Its sole objective is to preserve the status quo until the trial court hears fully the merits of the case.15 Its primary purpose is not to correct a wrong already consummated, or to redress an injury already sustained,16 or to punish wrongful acts already committed,17 but to preserve and protect the rights of the litigant during the pendency of the case.

This Court has ruled that the status quo sought to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable and unconstested situation which precedes a controversy.18 The status quo should be existing ante litem motam, or at the time of the filing of the case.19 For this reason, a preliminary injunction should not establish new relations between the parties, but merely maintain or re-establish the pre-existing relationship between them. The trial court itself expounded on this when it quoted Merville Park Homeowners Assn. Inc. vs. Velez20 in its assailed Order of April 24, 1995.21

The records readily show that before private respondents initiated the action for recovery of possession of the Lot and Buildings, petitioners were already occupying the Lot and Buildings. There is no allegation in the pleadings submitted by private respondents that petitioners were required to pay rent or other consideration at any time prior to the filing of the case before the trial court. On the contrary, the trial court found:

"On the other hand, there is no sufficient and established basis, to grant plaintiffsí prayer for issuance of preliminary mandatory injunction, to effect ejectment of defendants in the property in question, particularly in the building, where they are presently residing, it being clearly established, even in the evidence of plaintiffs themselves, defendants were allowed by the late Martin Ababan and his wife, Victoria Ababan, to occupy and stay in the property in question, without rentals, by way of assistance to them, as one of the daughters of the spouses Ababan but will no longer be allowed, to collect rentals of lessees in the premises."22 (Emphasis supplied)

Given its own findings, the trial court should not have required the petitioners, through preliminary injunction, to pay rent where no such obligation existed before, nor create a lessor-lessee relationship between the parties where none was indicated prior to the filing of the action for recovery of possession.1‚wphi1.nÍt

The vesting in private respondents of the right to collect rent from existing lessees of the Buildings is likewise premature, pending a final, as opposed to provisional, determination by the trial court of who among the parties is the lawful possessor of the Lot and Buildings. The transfer of such rights is not within the ambit of a preliminary injunction, which is essentially preservative in nature. The most prudent way to preserve the rights of the contending parties is to deposit with the trial court all the rentals from existing lessees of the Buildings. This will keep intact the rentals and insure turnover of the same to whoever is finally adjudged the rightful possessor of the Lot and Buildings.

Together with the other actions prohibited by the writ, the trial courtís order authorizing private respondents to collect rent virtually handed control over the Lot and Buildings to private respondents. Such control, however, pertains to the rightful possessor of the Lot and Buildings, the determination of which is the central issue of the case to be resolved by the trial court only upon the completion of the trial on the merits. The Court of Appeals itself noted that the findings of the trial court on this matter were not final, and the trial court may easily reverse the same later on, to wit:

"Specifically, we find no irregularity in respondent courtís order directing petitioners to pay rentals to respondent Victoria Ababan at this stage of the proceedings and in ordering petitioners to desist and refrain from collecting rentals from the lessees of the buildings in question. As provisionally found by respondent court in its Order of April 24, 1995, respondent Victoria Ababan and her late husband are the owners of the buildings in question which they have constructed, and that petitioners were merely allowed to occupy and stay in the subject premises. As a necessary and incidental consequence thereof, petitioners must pay rentals to respondent Victoria Ababan. To allow petitioners to stay in the subject premises without payment of rentals would render useless the tentative pronouncement of respondent court that the buildings in question are owned by respondent Victoria Ababan and her late husband, and that petitioners may not be evicted therefrom pending trial of the case on the merits.23 (Emphasis supplied)

This Court has ruled time and again that a preliminary injunction is not proper when its purpose is to take the property out of the possession or control of one party and transfer the same to the hands of another who did not have such control at the inception of the case and whose legal title has not clearly been established.24 In the instant case, the rights of private respondents and the petitioners to the Lot and Buildings are precisely In contention, and have yet to be decided by the trial court. A court should avoid issuing a writ of preliminary injunction which would effectively dispose of the main case without trial.25

Moreover, a writ of preliminary injunction may only require a party to refrain from a particular act or acts.26 The portion of the Order of the trial court directing the petitioners to pay rent is therefore not the proper subject of a preliminary injunction, but of a preliminary mandatory injunction which the trial court has seen fit not to grant.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals dated April 30, 1996 in C.A. G.R. SP No. 37983 is hereby MODIFIED. The assailed Orders dated April 24, 1995 and June 15, 1995, and the writ of preliminary injunction dated May 10, 1995, issued by the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, in Civil Case No. 23078-94 are AFFIRMED to the extent that they restrain petitioners from performing any of the following acts:

1. Making any improvements on the Lot and Buildings;

2. Entering into any contract for the disposition of any portion of the Lot and Buildings in favor of third parties; and

3. Doing any act or acts prejudicial to the rights and interests of private respondents over the Lot and Buildings.

However, that portion of the assailed Orders and writ of preliminary injunction directing petitioners to pay rent to private respondents, and transferring to private respondents the right to collect rentals from lessees of the Buildings, is SET ASIDE. Petitioners shall not pay rent for the use of their residence but shall deposit with the trial court all collections of rentals from lessees of the Buildings. The Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, is directed to proceed with the hearing of Civil Case No. 23078-94.

SO ORDERED.

Vitug, Panganiban, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.
Melo, J., abroad, on official Leave.


Footnotes

1 Penned by Associate Justice Jaime M. Lantin and concurred in by Associate Justices Lourdes K. Tayao-Jaguros and B. A. Adefuin-De la Cruz.

2 Penned by Judge Renato A. Fuentes.

3 Rollo, page 38.

4 The Lot is part of the Tadao Nambo Estate being administered by the Board of Liquidators.

5 Ibid., page 49.

6 Ibid., page 65.

7 Ibid., page 74.

8 Ibid., page 85.

9 Court of Appeals Decision, Records of C.A.-G.R. SP No. 37983, p. 179.

10 Ortañez-Enderes vs. Court of Appeals, 321 SCRA 178 (1999); saulog vs. Court of Appeals, 262 SCRA 51 (1996).

11 Lopez vs. Court of Appeals, 322 SCRA 686 (2000).

12 Rollo, pp. 79-80.

13 Supra, see note 10.

14 Rollo, p. 87. Paragraph 5 of defendants Jaime and Salvacion Bustamanteís Motion for Reconsideration dated May 19, 1995 in Civil Case No. 23078-94 states:

"xxx Thus, defendants could agree to the prohibition for them to make further improvements in the premises as well as to refrain from entering into any contract for the disposition of the properties in litigation in favor of any of the parties during the pendency of this case xxx."

15 Heirs of Joaquin Asuncion vs. Gervacio, Jr., 304 SCRA 322 (1999).

16 Paramount insurance Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 310 SCRA 377 (1999); Sabalones vs. Court of Appeals, 230 SCRA 79 (1994).

17 Sabalones vs. Court of Appeals, supra.

18 Philippine Economic Zone Authority vs. Vianzon, 336 SCRA 309 (2000).

19 Supra.

20 196 SCRA 189 (1991).

21 See note 6.

22 Ibid.

23 Rollo, p. 34.

24 Ortañez-Enderes vs. Court of Appeals, supra., see note 10, citing Central Bank vs. Dela Cruz, 191 SCRA 346 (1990); Gaisano vs. Hidalgo, 192 SCRA 244 (1990); Navarro vs. Court of Appeals, 205 SCRA 429 (1992).

25 Mizona vs. Court of Appeals, 346 SCRA 727 (2000); Philippine Economic Zone Authority vs. Vianzon, supra.; Ortigas & Co. Ltd. Partnership vs. Court of Appeals, 162 SCRA 165 (1988).

26 Rule 58, Section 1 of the Rules of Court.


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