(NOTE: These cases reached the Supreme Court upon Petition for Review filed containing Written Arguments Prepared by Lawyers of the Firm as Counsel For Petitioners in Both Cases)
1. “Admissibility” v. “Probative Value”
These two concepts in the study of evidence have been distinguished by the Supreme Court in the recent case of Sofia Tabuada et al., v. Eleanor Tabuada & Bernan Certeza, G.R. No. 196510, September 12, 2018, in this fashion:
“The legal relationship of Sofia Tabuada with deceased Loreta Tabuada was established by preponderance of evidence
The CA found merit in the contention that the petitioners were not able to prove by preponderance of evidence that they were the legal heirs of the late Loreta Tabuada, the registered holder of the title over the mortgaged real property. The CA noted that the death certificate the petitioners presented was not an authenticated copy on security paper issued by the National Statistics Office (now Philippine Statistics Authority); and that the name of the deceased on the death certificate (Loreta Yulo Tabuada) did not match the name of the registered title holder (Loreta H. Tabuada). It pointed out that the “discrepancy is material as it puts in issue the real identity of the Loreta H. Tabuada who the plaintiffs claim is their predecessor-in-interest and the person whose name appears in the death certificate as Loreta Yulo Tabuada.
Consequently, this inconsistency puts in doubt the plaintiffs appellees’ ownership over Lot No. 4272-B-2.”22
The CA thereby underscored that the petitioners did not prove Sofia Tabuada’s legal relationship with the late Loreta Tabuada because she did not present documentary evidence thereof.
The CA grossly erred.
Under the Rules of Court, evidence – as the means of ascertaining in a judicial proceeding the truth respecting a matter of fact – may be object, documentary, and testimonial. It is required that evidence, to be admissible, must be relevant and competent. But the admissibility of evidence should not be confused with its probative value. Admissibility refers to the question of whether certain pieces of evidence are to be considered at all, while probative value refers to the question of whether the admitted evidence proves an issue. Thus, a particular item of evidence may be admissible, but its evidentiary weight depends on judicial evaluation within the guidelines provided by the rules of evidence.
Although documentary evidence may be preferable as proof of a legal relationship, other evidence of the relationship that are competent and relevant may not be excluded. The preponderance of evidence, the rule that is applicable in civil cases, is also known as the greater weight of evidence.
There is a preponderance of evidence when the trier of facts is led to find that the existence of the contested fact is more probable than its nonexistence. In short, the rule requires the consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the cases, regardless of whether they are object, documentary, or testimonial.
The mere discrepancy – as perceived by the CA – between the name of the deceased entered in the death certificate (Loreta Yulo Tabuada) and the name of the titleholder (Loreta H. Tabuada) did not necessarily belie or disprove the legal relationship between Sofia Tabuada and the late Loreta Tabuada. To establish filiation, the courts. – like the RTC herein – should consider and analyze not only the relevant testimonies of witnesses who are competent but other relevant evidence as well. There was on record herein Sofia Tabuada’s unchallenged declaration of her being the daughter-in-law of the registered titleholder. Also on record was the petitioners’ being in the actual possession of Lot No. 4272-B-2, which they had been using as the site for their family residence. Such established circumstances indicated that the deceased Loreta Yulo Tabuada and titleholder Loreta H. Tabuada could only be one and the same person. Moreover, even the Spouses Certeza were aware that respondents Eleanor Tabuada and Tabuco were the relatives of Sofia Tabuada; and that the respective families of Eleanor Tabuada, Tabuco and Sofia Tabuada actually resided on the same lot. Verily, the facts and circumstances sufficiently and competently affirmed the legal relationship between Sofia Tabuada and the late titleholder Loreta H. Tabuada.
Real estate mortgage was null and void
Under Article 2085 of the Civil Code, a mortgage, to be valid, must have the following requisites, namely: (a) that it be constituted to secure the fulfillment of a principal obligation; (b) that the mortgagor be the absolute owner of the thing mortgaged; and ( c) that the person constituting the mortgage has free disposal of the property, and in the absence of the right of free disposal, that the person be legally authorized for the purpose. Far East Bank & Trust Company v. Chante, G.R. No. 170598, October 9, 2013, 707 SCRA 149, 163. 31 Section 1, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court states that preponderance of evidence in civil cases is determined by considering “all the facts and circumstances of the case, the witnesses’ manner of testifying, their intelligence, their means and opportunity of knowing the facts to which they are testifying, the nature of the facts to which they testify, the probability or improbability of their testimony, their interest or want of interest, and also their personal credibility so far as the same may legitimately appear upon the trial. The court may also consider the number of witnesses, though the preponderance is not necessarily with the greater number.”
It is uncontested that the late Loreta Tabuada had died in 1990, or four years before the mortgage was constituted; and that Eleanor Tabuada and Trabuco admitted to petitioner Sofia Tabuada that they had mortgaged the property to the Spouses Certezas. Accordingly, the RTC was fully justified in declaring the nullity of the mortgage based on its finding that Eleanor Tabuada had fraudulently represented herself to the Spouses Certeza as the late Loreta Tabuada, the titleholder. That the titleholder had been dead when the mortgage was constituted on the property by Eleanor Tabuada was not even contested by Eleanor Tabuada and Tabuco. In any event, Eleanor Tabuada had not been legally authorized to mortgage the lot to the Spouses Certeza.
The lessons that may be learned from this case are as follows:
a. TOTALITY OF EVIDENCE Rule~ The Supreme Court ruled that courts ought to take into account all kinds of evidence, i.e, object, documentary and testimonial, that the party presented in court and not nit-pick on certain innocuous discrepancies. And by summing up everything, then and only then should the court rule on whether the quantum of proof required (preponderance of evidence in this case being a civil case), had been satisfied.
b. Admissibility of Certificate of Death issued by Local Civil Registrar (not the authenticated copy issued by the National Statistics Office [NSO]). With the advent of computer-generated copies of entries in the civil registrar which are now popularly known as ‘authenticated copies’ of Certificates of Birth, Marriage, Death, etc., government agencies such as the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), would only accept the ‘authenticated copies’ which were issued by the NSO. Some courts would not accept the ‘certified true copies’ which are issued by the local civil registrar. But in this case, the trial court admitted as evidence the certified true copy of the Death Certificate of Loreta Tabuada which was issued by the local civil registrar and the trial court was sustained by the Supreme Court on this account.
2) Latest 2019 Doctrinal-Ruling on Easement of Light & View
The easement of light and view imposed on Lot 1 acquired by the Sps. Garcia
Having disposed of the first issue, the Court shall now decide whether the Sps. Garcia have indeed acquired an easement of light and view, imposing a burden on Lot 1 not to obstruct the subject property’s free access to light and view. The Court notes that the issues surrounding the alleged easement of lateral and subjacent support were no longer pursued by the Sps. Garcia in the instant Petition. Hence, the Court’s Decision shall focus exclusively on the easement of light and view purportedly acquired by the Sps. Garcia as against the Sps. Santos’ Lot 1. Considering that the jurisprudence on the concept of easements of light and view is not in abundance, this is an opportune time for the Court to explain clearly and resolutely the rules regarding the acquisition of an easement of light and view vis-a-vis several parcels of land owned by separate owners that were previously owned by a single owner, and the distances that must be observed in relation thereto. The Concept of Easements and the Easement of Light and View according to Article 613 of the Civil Code, an easement or servitude is an encumbrance imposed upon an immovable for the benefit of another immovable belonging to a different owner. The immovable in favor of which the easement is established is called the dominant estate; that which is subject thereto, the servient estate. As defined by jurisprudence, an easement is “a real right on another’s property, corporeal and immovable, whereby the owner of the latter must refrain from doing or allowing somebody else to do or something to be done on his property, for the benefit of another person or tenement. Easements are established either by law or by the will of the owner. The former are called legal, and the latter, voluntary easements.” An easement has been described as “a real right which burdens a thing with a prestation consisting of determinate servitudes for the exclusive enjoyment of a person who is not its owner or of a tenement belonging to another.” Legal easements are ones imposed by law, and which have, for their object, either public use or interest of private persons, as opposed to voluntary easements that are established by the agreements of the parties. The different legal easements are: ( a) easement relating to waters; (b) right of way; (c) party wall; (d) light and view; (e) drainage; (f) intermediate distances; (g) easement against nuisance; and (h) lateral and subjacent support. The legal easement called easement of light and view refers to an easement whereby the dominant estate enjoys the right to have free access to light, a little air, and a view overlooking the adjoining estate, i.e., the servient estate.
The easement of light and view has two components.
The easement of light or jus luminum has the purpose of admitting light and a little air, as in the case of small windows, not more than 30 centimeters square, at the height of the ceiling joists or immediately under the ceiling. On the other hand, the easement of view or servidumbre prospectus has the principal purpose of affording view, as in the case of full or regular windows overlooking the adjoining estate. Explained otherwise, the easement of light is the right to make openings under certain conditions in order to receive light from another’s tenement while the easement of view is the right to make openings or windows, to enjoy the view through the estate of another and the power to prevent all constructions or works which would obstruct such view or make the same difficult. The easement of view is broader than the easement of light because the latter is always included in the former. As held by jurisprudence, the easement of light and view is intrinsically intertwined with the easement of the servient estate not to build higher or altius non tollendi. These two necessarily go together “because an easement of light and view requires that the owner of the servient estate shall not build to a height that will obstruct the window.” In the instant case, the Sps. Garcia assert that since they have acquired by title an easement of light and view, the owner of the adjacent servient estate, i.e., the Sps. Santos, is proscribed from building a structure that obstructs the window of their one-storey house.
Classification of Easements as Positive and Negative Easements Article 616 of the Civil Code states that easements may be classified into positive and negative easements. A positive easement is one which imposes upon the owner of the servient estate the obligation of allowing something to be done or of doing it himself. On the other hand, a negative easement is that which prohibits the owner of the servient estate from doing something which he could lawfully do if the easement did not exist.
What is the significance of determining whether an easement is positive or negative?
Such determination is consequential in determining how an easement is acquired. According to Article 621 of the Civil Code, in order to acquire easements by prescription in positive easements, the prescriptive period shall commence from the day on which the owner of the dominant estate, or the person who may have made use of the easement, commenced to exercise it upon the servient estate. With respect to negative easements, the prescriptive period shall commence from the day on which the owner of the dominant estate forbade, by an instrument acknowledged before a notary public, the owner of the servient estate, from executing an act which would be lawful without the easement.
Easement of Light and View as a Positive and Negative Easement
How then is an easement of light and view classified? Is it a positive or a negative easement? The answer is it may be both; an easement of light and view may either be positive or negative. As a general rule, an easement of light and view is a positive one if the window or opening is situated in a party wall, while it is a negative one if the window or opening is thru one’s own wall, i.e., thru a wall of the dominant estate. However, “[e]ven if the window is on one’s own wall, still the easement would be positive if the window is on a balcony or projection extending over into the adjoining land.” In the instant case, it is not disputed that the windows and other openings, which are allegedly now prevented from receiving light and view due to the structure built by the Sps. Santos on Lot 1, are made in the wall of Sps. Garcia’s one-storey-house. There is no party wall alleged to be co-owned by the parties. In the very early case of Cortes v. Yu-Tibo, the Court held that the easement of light and view in the case of windows opened in one’s own wall is negative. As such easement is a negative one, it cannot be acquired by prescription except where sufficient time of possession has elapsed after the owner of the dominant estate, by a formal act, has prohibited the owner of the servient estate from doing something which would be lawful but for the easement. The phrase “formal act” would require not merely any writing, but one executed in due form and/or with solemnity. This is expressly stated in Article 668 of the Civil Code which states that the period of prescription for the acquisition of an easement of light and view shall be counted: (1) from the time of the opening of the window, if it is through a party wall; or (2) from the time of the formal prohibition upon the proprietor of the adjoining land or tenement, if the window is through a wall on the dominant estate. It is from these legal premises that the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division based their holdings that the Sps. Garcia “never acquired an easement of light and view under Article 668 of the Civil Code for failure to serve a notarial prohibition.” It is not disputed that the Sps. Garcia never sent the Sps. Santos any formal notice or notarial prohibition enjoining the latter from constructing any building of higher height on Lot 1. Hence, the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division made the conclusion that the Sps. Garcia failed to acquire an easement of light and view in relation to the adjacent Lot 1.
Nevertheless, the Court finds that the aforesaid holding of the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division is incorrect in view of Article 624 of the Civil Code.
Article 624 – The Existence of an Apparent Sign of Easement between Two Estates formerly owned by a Single Owner considered a Title to Easement of Light and View
While it is a general rule that a window or opening situated on the wall of the dominant estate involves a negative easement, and, thus, may only be acquired by prescription, tacked from the time of the formal prohibition upon the proprietor of the servient estate, it is not true that all windows or openings situated on the wall of the dominant estate may only be acquired through prescription. Aside from prescription, easements may likewise be acquired through title. The term “title” does not necessarily mean a document. Instead, it refers to a juridical act or law sufficient to create the encumbrance. One such legal proviso which grants title to an easement is found in Article 624 of the Civil Code. Article 624 of the Civil Code reads:
x x x. The existence of an apparent sign of easement between two estates, established or maintained by the owner of both, shall be considered, should either of them be alienated, as a title in order that the easement may continue actively and passively, unless, at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided, the contrary should be provided in the title of conveyance of either of them, or the sign aforesaid should be removed before the execution of the deed. This provision shall also apply’ in case of the division of a thing owned in common by two or more persons.
The aforesaid article is based on Article 541 of the Spanish Civil Code, which reads:
xx x. The existence of an apparent sign of an easement between two estates established by the owner of both shall be considered, should one of them be alienated, as a title for the active and passive continuation of the easement, unless, at the time of the division of the ownership of the two properties, the contrary should be expressed in the deed of conveyance of either of them, or the sign is obliterated before the execution of the instrument.
The mode of acquiring an easement under Article 624 is a “legal presumption or apparent sign.” Article 624 finds application in situations wherein two or more estates were previously owned by a singular owner, or even a single estate but with two or more portions being owned by a singular owner. Originally, there is no true easement that exists as there is only one owner. Hence, at the outset, no other owner is imposed with a burden. Subsequently, one estate or a portion of the estate is alienated in favor of another person, wherein, in that estate or portion of the estate, an apparent visible sign of an easement exists. According to Article 624, there arises a title to an easement of light and view, even in the absence of any formal act undertaken by the owner of the dominant estate, if this apparent visible sign, such as the existence of a door and windows, continues to remain and subsist, unless, at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided, (1) the contrary should be provided in the title of conveyance of either of them, or (2) the sign aforesaid should be removed before the execution of the deed. ‘ This is precisely the situation that has occurred in the instant case. Prior to the purchase of the subject property by the Sps. Garcia in 1998, the subject property and its adjoining lot, i.e., Lot 1, were both owned by singular owners, i.e., the Sps. Santos. On the subject property, a one-storey house laden with several windows and openings was built and the windows and openings remained open. Then on October 1998, the subject property, together with the one-storey structure, was alienated in favor of the Sps. Garcia, while the Sps. Santos retained the adjoining Lot 1. Jurisprudence has recognized that Article 624 is an exception carved out by the Civil Code that must be taken out of the coverage of the general rule that an easement of light and view in the case of windows opened in one’s own wall is a negative easement that may only be acquired by prescription, tacked from a formal prohibition relayed to the owner of the servient estate. As explained in Amor v. Florentino, the very decision in Cortes v. Yu Tibo, while holding that the easement of light and view in situations involving openings situated on the wall of the dominant estate is a negative easement that may only be acquired by prescription tacked from formal prohibition, “distinguishes that case from the situation foreseen in article 541 [now Article 624 of the Civil Code].” In Cortes v. Yu-Tibo, there were two different owners of two separate houses from the beginning, which is a situation different from that presented under Article 624 where there is only one original owner of the two structures. Cortes v. Yu-Tibo itself explicitly differentiates the situation presented therein and the special situation contemplated under then Article 541 of the Spanish Civil Code, which is now Article 624 of the Civil Code, wherein no formal act is needed to acquire easement of light and view:
x x x It is true that the supreme court of Spain, in its decisions of February 7 and May 5, 1896, has classified as positive easements of lights which were the object of the suits in which these decisions were rendered in cassation, and from these it might be believed at first glance[,] that the former holdings of the supreme court upon this subject had been overruled. But this is not so, as a matter of fact, inasmuch as there is no conflict between these decisions and the former decisions above cited. In the first of the suits referred to, the question turned upon two houses which had formerly belonged to the same owner, who established a service of light on one of them for the benefit of the other. These properties were subsequently conveyed to two different persons, but at the time of the separation of the property nothing was said as to the discontinuance of the easement, nor were the windows which constituted the visible sign thereof removed. The new owner of the house subject to the easement endeavored to free it from the incumbrance, notwithstanding the fact that the easement had been in existence for thirty-five years, and alleged that the owner of the dominant estate had not performed any act of opposition which might serve as a starting point for the acquisition of a prescriptive title. The supreme court, in deciding this case, on the 7th of February, 1896, held that the easement in this particular case was positive, because it consisted in the active enjoyment of the light. This doctrine is doubtless based upon article 541 of the Code, which is of the following tenor: “The existence of apparent sign of an easement between two tenements, established by the owner of both of them, shall be considered, should one be sold, as a title for the active and passive continuance of the easement, unless, at the time of the division of the ownership of both tenements, the contrary should be expressed in the deed of conveyance of either of them, or such sign is taken away before the execution of such deed.” The word “active” used in the decision quoted in classifying the particular enjoyment of light referred to therein, presupposes on the part of the owner of the dominant estate a right to such enjoyment arising, in the particular case passed upon by that decision, from the voluntary act of the original owner of the two houses, by which he imposed upon one of them an easement for the benefit of the other. It is well known that easements are established, among other cases, by the will of the owners. (Article 536 of the Code) It was an act which was, in fact, respected and acquiesced in by the new owner of the servient estate, since he purchased it without making any stipulation against the easement existing thereon, but, on the contrary, acquiesced in the continuance of the apparent sign thereof. As is stated in the decision itself, “It is a principle of law that upon a division of a tenement among various persons-in the absence of any mention in the contract of a mode of enjoyment different from that to which the former owner was accustomed-such easements as may be necessary for the continuation of such enjoyment are understood to subsist.” It will be seen, then, that the phrase “active enjoyment” involves an idea directly opposed to the enjoyment which is the result of a mere tolerance on the part of the adjacent owner, and which, as it is not based upon an absolute, enforceable right, may be considered as of a merely passive character. Therefore, the decision in question is not in conflict with the former rulings of the supreme court of Spain upon the subject, inasmuch as it deals with an easement of light established by the owner of the servient estate, and which continued in force after the estate was sold, in accordance with the special provisions of article 541 of the Civil Code.
Application of the Court’s Decisions in Amor v. Florentino, and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan to the Instant Case
The rulings of the Court in Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan, which involve situations that are almost completely analogous to the instant case, are enlightening. In these cases, like the case at hand, several properties were once owned by a single owner, wherein in one of the properties, a structure with windows and other openings was put up. Subsequently, the adjacent property was transferred to a different owner, wherein a structure was built thereon obstructing the windows and other openings found on the adjacent lot. In Amor v. Florentino, one Maria Florentino (Maria) owned a house and a camarin or warehouse located in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. The house had, on the north side, three windows on the upper storey, and a fourth one on the ground floor. Through these windows, the house received light and air from the adjacent lot where the camarin stood. On September 6, 1885, Maria made a will, devising the house and the land on which it was situated to Gabriel Florentino, one of the respondents therein, and to Jose Florentino, father of the other respondents therein. In said will, the testatrix also devised the warehouse and the lot where it was situated to Maria Encarnacion Florentino (Maria Encarnacion). Upon the death of the testatrix in 1892, nothing was said or done by the devisees in regard to the windows in question. On July 14, 1911, Maria Encarnacion sold her lot and the warehouse thereon to the petitioner therein, Severo Amor (Amor). In January 1938, therein Amor destroyed the old warehouse and started to build instead a two-storey house. In deciding the case, the Court first explained that easements may be acquired either through title or prescription and enumerated the different acts by which an easement may be acquired by virtue of title, namely: ( 1) a deed of recognition by the owner of the servient estate; (2) a final judgment; and (3) an apparent sign between two estates, established by the owner of both, referring to Article 541 (now Article 624) of the Civil Code. Citing decisions of the Supreme Tribunal of Spain, the Court explained that “under article 541 [now Article 624] of the Civil Code, the visible and permanent sign of an easement ‘is the title that characterizes its existence’ (‘ es el titulo caracteristico de su existencia. ‘)” Applying Article 541 (now Article 624) of the Civil Code, the Court held that the existence of the four windows constructed on the subject house was an apparent sign of an easement of light and view, the subsistence of which after the lots were segregated to different owners created an easement of light and view by title without the need of any formal notice to the servient estate. The Court explained that the moment of the constitution of the easement of light and view, together with that of altius non tollendi, was the time of the transfer of the other property adjacent to the lot where the windows were located, which, in that case, was the death of the original owner of both properties:
It will thus be seen that under article 541 the existence of the apparent sign in the instant case, to wit, the four windows under consideration, had for all legal purposes the same character and effect as a title of acquisition of the easement of light and view by the respondents upon the death of the original owner, Maria Florentino. Upon the establishment of that easement of light and view, the concomitant and concurrent easement of altius non tollendi was also constituted, the heir of the camarin and its lot, Maria Encarnacion Florentino, not having objected to the existence of the windows. The theory of article 541, of making the existence of the apparent sign equivalent to a title, when nothing to the contrary is said or done by the two owners, is sound and correct, because as it happens in this case, there is an implied contract between them that the easements in question should be constituted. Analyzing article 541 further, it seems that its wording is not quite felicitous when it says that the easement should continue. Sound juridical thinking rejects such an idea because, properly speaking, the easement is not created till the division of the property, inasmuch as a predial or real easement is one of the rights in another’s property, or Jura in re aliena and nobody can have an easement over his own property, nemini sua res servit. In the instant case, therefore, when the original owner, Maria Florentino, opened the windows which received light and air from another lot belonging to her, she was merely exercising her right of dominion. Consequently, the moment of the constitution of the easement of light and view, together with that of altius non tollendi, was the time of the death of the original owner of both properties. At that point, the requisite that there must be two proprietors – one of the dominant estate and another of the servient estate – was fulfilled.
Subsequently, in 1960, the Court rendered its Decision in the case of Gargantos v. Tan Yanan. In the said case, the late Francisco Sanz (Sanz) was the former owner of a parcel of land with the buildings and improvements thereon, situated in the poblacion of Romblon. He subdivided the lot into three (3) and then sold each portion to different persons. One portion was purchased by Guillermo Tengtio who subsequently sold it to Vicente Uy Veza. Another portion, with the house of strong materials thereon, was sold in 1927 to Tan Yanon, the respondent therein. This house had on its northeastern side, doors and windows overlooking the third portion, which, together with the camarin and small building thereon, after passing through several hands, was finally acquired by Juan Gargantos ( Gargantos ), the petitioner therein. In 1955, Gargantos tore down the roof of the camarin and constructed a combined residential house and warehouse on his lot. The Court held that Article 538 (now Article 621) of the Civil Code and the doctrine in Cortes v. Yu-Tibo that the easement of light and view in situations involving openings situated on the wall of the dominant estate is a negative easement that may only be acquired by prescription tacked from formal prohibition “[is] not applicable herein because the two estates, that now owned by petitioner, and that owned by respondent, were formerly owned by just one person, Francisco Sanz.” The Court further explained that the existence of the doors and windows on the northeastern side of the house was equivalent to a title, for the visible and permanent sign of an easement was the title that characterized its existence:
x x x It was Sanz who introduced improvements on both properties. On that portion presently belonging to respondent, he constructed a house in such a way that the northeastern side thereof extends to the wall of the camarin on the portion now belonging to petitioner. On said northeastern side of the house, there are windows and doors which serve as passages for light and view. These windows and doors were in existence when respondent purchased the house and lot from Sanz. The deed of sale did not provide that the easement of light and view would not be established. This then is precisely the case covered by Article 541, O.C.C. (now Article 624, N.C.C.) which provides that the existence of an apparent sign of easement between two estates, established by the proprietor of both, shall be considered, if one of them is alienated, as a title so that the easement will continue actively and passively, unless at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided, the contrary is stated in the deed of alienation of either of them, or the sign is made to disappear before the instrument is executed. The existence of the doors and windows on the northeastern side of the aforementioned house, is equivalent to a title, for the visible and permanent sign of an easement is the title that characterizes its existence (Amor vs. Florentino, 74 Phil., 403). It should be noted, however, that while the law declares that the easement is to “continue” the easement actually arises for the first time only upon alienation of either estate, inasmuch as before that time there is no easement to speak of, there being but one owner of both estates (Article 530, O.C.C., now Article 613, N.C.C.).
From Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan, read together with Cortes v. Yu-Tibo, it has been jurisprudentially established that, in a situation wherein Article 624 of the Civil Code applies, there arises an easement if an apparent sign of the existence of an easement, i.e., the existence of windows and openings on the dominant estate, continues to remain even after the transfer of the property to the new owner, unless such apparent sign is removed or if there is an agreement to the contrary. To reiterate, such is exactly the situation attendant in the instant case. Lot 1 and the subject property were once owned by one owner, i.e., the Sps. Santos. On the subject property, a one-storey house with windows and other openings that accept light and view from Lot 1, which was idle at that time, was built. Subsequently, in 1998, the subject property was alienated in favor of the Sps. Garcia. It is undisputed that the windows and other openings on the one-storey house subsisted and remained open. It is also not disputed that there was no agreement made by the parties whatsoever to the effect that the windows and openings of the Sps. Garcia’s house should be closed or removed. Hence, in accordance with Article 624 of the Civil Code, from the time the Sps. Santos transferred the subject property to the Sps. Garcia, there arose by title an easement of light and view, placing a burden on the servient estate, i.e., Lot 1, to allow the Sps. Garcia’s residence unobstructed access to light and view, subject to certain limitations as will be discussed hereunder. The core of the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division’s Decisions dismissing the Sps. Garcia’s Complaint centers on the argument that the cases of Amor v. Florentino, and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan are not applicable to the instant case because in the latter, “the previous owner only made improvements on the [subject property] of [the Sps. Garcia] at the time of the transfer of the alleged dominant estate to [the Sps. Garcia.] This takes the instant case out of the factual milieu of Amor and Gargantos.” According to the CA, Special 18th Division, “[t]he rulings in Amor and Gargantos appear to be premised on the fact that the previous owner made improvements on both properties prior to the transfer of one of these properties.” After a close reading of Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan, the Court holds that the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division were mistaken in not applying the aforesaid cases to the instant case. First and foremost, the subject Civil Code provision dealt with by these two cases, i.e., Article 624 (formerly Article 541) of the Civil Code, merely states that what is involved in this particular situation is “an apparent sign of easement between two estates.” There is nothing in the aforesaid provision that requires the presence or establishment of structures or improvements on both estates at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided. The conclusion of the CA, Special 18th Division that Article 624 applies only when the (future) servient estate has an improvement thereon at the time of the transfer of the ownership of either or both of the estates finds no textual support. What the law merely states is that there must be two estates that were once owned by one owner, regardless of the existence of improvements in the (future) servient estate. What law requires is that, at the time the ownership of the estates is divided, there must be an apparent sign of easement that exists, such as a window, door, or other opening, in the dominant estate. As exhaustively explained by recognized Civil Law Commentator, former CA Justice Eduardo P. Caguioa, the existence of an easement of light and view under Article 624 is established as long as ( 1) there exists an apparent sign of servitude between two estates; (2) the sign of the easement must be established by the owner of both tenements; (3) either or both of the estates are alienated by the owner; and (4) at the time of the alienation nothing is stated in the document of alienation contrary to the easement nor is the sign of the easement removed before the execution of the document:
x x x In this case[,] the owner of two estates has established an apparent sign of the easement between two estates. It is apparent inasmuch as since it is the owner establishing it in his own property in favor of an estate belonging to himself there is no easement but merely an exercise of the right of ownership. Should, however, one or both of the estates be alienated or after partition in case of a property owned in common, then that sign established by the owner will constitute a title for the establishment of the easement, both actively or passively, except in case the contrary should be provided in the document of conveyance of either estate or in case before the alienation is made the sign is removed by the owner. Hence, in order that this article will apply[,] the following are the requisites: (1) That there exist an apparent sign of servitude between two estates; (2) That the sign of the easement be established by the owner of both tenements because the article will not apply when the easement is established by a person different from the owner; (3) That either or both of the estates are alienated by the owner; and (4) That at the time of the alienation nothing is stated in the document of alienation contrary to the easement nor is the sign of the easement removed before the execution of the document.
It is evident that the prior existence of another structure or building in the other estate, in addition to the apparent sign of easement existing on the dominant estate, is not a requirement for the application of Article 624. What is clear from the foregoing is that the hallmark of an easement of light and view established by an apparent sign of easement under Article 624 is the existence of an apparent sign of servitude between two estates, such as a window, door, or any other opening, that was established by the common owner of both estates prior to the division of ownership of these estates. Second, upon close reading of Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan, there is no holding whatsoever by the Court that the application of Article 624 ( formerly Article 541) is restricted to situations wherein the servient estate previously contained improvements or structures. The RTC and CA, Special 18th Division failed to explain the rationale for making a differentiation as to situations wherein the servient estate was idle at the time of the division of the ownership of the two estates. Instead, the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division merely nitpicked this singular factual difference and concluded, without sufficient explanation, that the factual milieu of the instant case differs from those of Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan. It must be stressed that the presence of a minor factual difference does not preclude the application of judicial precedent. It must be explained how the factual difference in a case makes the doctrine established in the decided case inapplicable therein. In the instant case, the cases of Amor v. Florentino and Gargantos v. Tan Yanan clearly and plainly explain that there arises an easement if an apparent sign of the existence of an easement, i.e., the existence of windows and openings on the dominant estate, continues to remain even after the transfer of the property to the new owner, without making any holding whatsoever that there should have been a prior structure that was put up on the servient estate. The fact that the existence of windows, doors, and other openings on the dominant estate is the apparent sign of an existing easement is not hinged whatsoever on the presence of structures on the adjacent servient estate. In short, the fact in the aforesaid cases that the servient estates therein had existing structures prior to the division of ownership is not a significant fact that is determinative of the holdings of the Court. In fact, the Court notes that in Amor v. Florentino, the improvement originally constructed on the servient estate, i.e., the warehouse, was actually totally demolished and that, after the transfer of ownership of the dominant estate, a new two-storey house was thereafter built in its stead. This does not differ substantially from a situation wherein new constructions are done in the servient estate that was previously completely empty. Further, in Gargantos v. Tan Yanan, the Court, in applying Article 624 of the Civil Code, held that “[b ]y reason of this easement, petitioner cannot construct on his land any building.” The Court did not say that the petitioner therein was barred only from adding or increasing the height of existing structures or improvements. Hence, considering the foregoing discussion, the RTC and CA, Special 18th Division committed an error in holding that the Sps. Garcia failed to acquire an easement of light and view in the instant case. By virtue of Article 624 of the Civil Code and applicable jurisprudence, the Court holds that the Sps. Garcia have acquired an easement of light and view by title despite the lack of any formal notice or prohibition made upon the owner of the servient estate. ~Sps. Tedy Garcia and Pilar Garcia Vs. Loreta T. Santos, Winston Santos and Conchita Tan, G.R. No. 228334. June 17, 2019