This case being the sequel to, and aftermath of, a previous litigation between the parties that reached the Supreme Court through the former Court of Appeal's, it becomes necessary to restate the essential antecedent facts to view the issues in... proper perspective. For this purpose, it is important to recall that on "August 26, 1931, Victorino L. Guevara, a resident of Bayambang, Pangasinan, executed a will (Exhibit A), distributing assorted movables and a residential lot among his... children, Rosario and Ernesto Guevara, and his stepchildren, Vivencio, Eduvigis, Dionista, Candida, and Pio Guevara. To his second wife Augustia Posadas, the testator bequeathed, in addition to various movables, a portion of 25 hectares to lie .taken out of a 259 odd... hectare parcel outlined in Plan Psu-68618, plus another five (5) hectares in settlement, of her widow's usufruct. The balance of the 259 odd hectares ho distributed as follows:
100 hectares reserved for disposal during the testator's lifetime and for payment of his debts and family expenses;
08.0854 hectares to his legitimate son Ernesto Guevara, including therein 43.2342 hectares by way of mejora;
On July 12, 1933, the same testator executed a deed of sale in favor of Ernesto Guevara, conveying to the latter the southern half of 'the 259-hectare lot heretofore mentioned, and expressly recognized Ernesto Guevara ... as owner of the northern half.
Prior to this sale, oh November 1, 1932, Victorino and his son Ernesto had jointly applied for registration of the big parcel (case No. 15174), but in view of the sale from the former to the latter, the decree was... issued in the name of Ernesto Guevara exclusively and for the whole tract a certificate of title (No. 51691 of Pangawnan) being issued in his sole name on October 12, 1933.
Fifteen days previously, i.e., on September 27, 1933, Victorinc Guevara died, but his ¦will was not filed for probate. About four years later, Rbsario Guevara, claiming; to be a recognized natural child of the deceased Victorino, and on... the assumption that he had died intestate, brought' suit against' Ernesto Guevara to recover. 423,492 square meters of the tract covered by certificate of title No. 51691 as the portion that should correspond to... her (Rosario). by way of legitime.
he case reached the former Court of Appeals in due course and was decided in Rosario Guevara's favor (Exhibit E)'; but upon certiorari, the Supreme Court rnodified the judgment in December, 1043, as follows
: the other half to Ernesto M. Guevara in consideration of the latter's assumption of the obligation to pay all the debts of the deceased, is hereby... affirmed; but the Judgment of said court insofar as it awarded any relief to the respondent Rosario Guevara, in this action is hereby reversed and set aside, and the parties are hereby ordered to present the document Exhibit A to the proper) court for... probate in accordance with law, without prejudice to such action as the provincial fiscal Pangasinan may take against the responsible party or parties under section 4 of Rule 76. After the said document, is approve and allowed by the court as the... last will and testament of the deceased Victorino L. Guevara, the heirs and legatees herein named may take such action, judicial or extra judicial, as necessary to partition the estate of the testator, taking in consideration. the pronouncements made in... part II of this opinion No -finding as to costs in any of the three instances.' (Appellant's Brief, pp. 13-14.)... laiming to act pursuant to the foregoing decision Rosario Guevara commenced on October 5, 1945, special proceedings No. 2646 in the Court of First Instance of Pangasinan for the probate of the will of Victorino Guevara. In paragraph 10 of the... petition, it
On January 31, 1946, Ernesto. Guevara, through counsel, filed a motion to dismiss the petition on' the grounds that (a petition itself alleged that the will was revoked; (b) that 'whatever right to probate the parties may have has ... already prescribe (Record on Appeal,, p. 14); and (c) that the purpose of th probate was, solely to have petitioner Rosario declared an acknowledged natural child of the deceased.
By order of December 9, 1946, Judge Sotero Rodas denied the motion, to dismiss; but upon motion of reconsideratio Judge Mainalac of the same court, on June 23, 1937, reconsidaration set aside the previous resolution and ordered the... petition dismissed on the ground that Rosario Guevara's petition did not for the probate in toto of the will, contrary to the order of Supreme Court; that her right to petition for the probate o testament .
of Victorino L. Guevara had prescribed; and that her action for judicial declaration of acknowledgment had likewise prescribed.
An amended petition for the probate of the will in toto and another petition to reconsider the previous order were subsequently denied; the former on the ground, that there was a radical change of theory from that embodied ... in the original petition, and the second for the same reasons stated in the order of June, 23, 1947. Rosario L, Guevara and Pedro L. Quinto thereupon brought the case-on appeal to this Court, assigning no less than ... twenty (20) alleged errors committed by the court below." (Guevara vs. Guevara, C.A. G. R. No. 5416-R, promulgated December 26, 1951; see Appendix to brief for the petitioner-appellant, pp. 1-6.)
The dispositive part of the decision of the Court of Appeals reads as follows:
"The order of dismissal of the petition for probate is reversed and the court of origin ordered to reinstate the petition, and to hear and decide whether the will of Victorino Guevara, deceased, should be allowed to probate.
Costs against appellees in both instances." (Ibid.)
Said petition for reconsideration appears, however, to be predicated, in effect, upon the ground that the evidence is insufficient to justify the decision of the court of first instance, and that said decision is contrary to law. It partakes, therefore, of the... nature of a motion for new trial, stating specifically the reasons in support thereof, and, hence, it suspended the period to appeal until the determination of said motion.
The last question for determination in this case is whether or not the petition for probate of the will of Victorino L. Guevara is barred by the statute of limitations, considering that the testator died on September 27, 19S3,... and that the petition for probate of said will was filed twelve (12) years later, or, to be exact, on October 5, 1945. The Court of Appeals resolved the question in the negative, upon the following grounds:
The Court of Appeals resolved the question in the negative, upon the following grounds:
It is likewise reasonable to assume that if the Supreme Court had considered the ten-year limitation applicable to probate proceedings, it would not have ordered the parties on December 29, 1943 'to present the... document Exhibit A to the proper court for probate in accordance with law', because the ten years from the death of the testator expired in September of that same year, two months before the decision. It is safe to assume that the high
Court would not order a useless step. The reasoning that the phrase 'in accordance with law' was a qualification signifying 'if still legally possible*, appears to be far-fetched and unjustified. The plain import of the words... employed by the high Court is that the probate should follow the procedure provided for the purpose."
"From whatever angle the case is viewed, a hearing on the allowance of the will is unavoidable. The persistent, albeit obnoxious, attempts of Rosario Guevara to sidetrack the will are not remedied by dismissing the petition for probate of will, and allowing
Ernesto to retain a greater interest than that intended by the testator." (Appendix to brief for the petitioner-appellant, pp. 7- 17-20.)
We are of the opinion that the Court below was in error when it declared that the petition for probate of the will of Victorino Guevara was barred by prescription. The provision of Article 756 of the old
Civil Code (1042 of the New) and of Rule 76 of the Rules of Court, reiterating those of the old Code of Civil Procedure (Act 190), point out that the presentation of a decedent's will to the competent court has always been deemed by our law as more of a... duty than a right, and the neglect of such obligation carries with it the corresponding penalty; and it is inconsistent with that policy that the court should refuse to admit wills to probate, without inquiry into their validity. The authority... given to testators to dispose freely of a portion of their estate would be imperfectly safeguarded, unless adequate measures were provided by the state to assure that the wishes of the deceased would be... carried out. Because the decedent may no longer act to have his testamentary dispositions duly executed, the state authority must take over the opposite vigilance and supervision, so that free testamentary disposition does... not remain a delusion and a dream. This was expressly recognized by the Supreme Court in its previous decision, G. R. No. 48840 '(Exhibit E) when it said:
They may not disregard the provisions of the will unless those provisions are contrary to law.
Neither may they do away with the presentation of the will to the court for probate, because such suppression of the will is contrary to law and public policy. The law enjoins the probate of the will... and public policy requires it, because unless the will is probated and notice thereof given to the whole world, the right of ¦a person to dispose of his property by will may be rendered nugatory, as is attempted to be... done in the instant case. Absent legatees and devisees, or such of them as may have no knowledge of the will, could be cheated of their inheritance thru the collusion of some of the heirs who might agree to the partition of the estate... among themselves to the exclusion of others.' (Italics supplied)
In holding the statute of limitations applicable to the probate of wills, the court below failed , to notice that its doctrine was destructive of the right of testamentary disposition and violative of the... owner's right to control his property within the legal limits. The appealed order in fact leaves wills at the mercy and whim of custodians and heirs interested in their suppression. The lower court would in ... effect abdicate the tutelary power that passed to the Republic from the former sovereigns, that 'potestad suprcma que en ml reside para velar por el puntual cumplimiento de las ultimas ¦voluntaries', asserted as one of the royal ... prerogatives in the 'Real Cedula' of March 18, 1776.
It is not without purpose that Rule of Court 77 prescribes that any 'person interested in the estate may, at any time after the death of the testator, petition the court having jurisdiction to have the will... allowed'. Taken from the Code of Procedure of California, this provision has been interpreted as meaning that the statute of limitations has no application to probate of wills. In case of In re Hume's Estate, 179 Calif.
338, 176 Pac. 681, th California Supreme Court ruled that:
One of the most fundamental conceptions of probate law, is that it is the duty of the court to effectuate, in so far as may be compatible with the public interest, the devolutionary wishes of a deceased person (Matter of Watson's Will, 262 N.Y.
284, 294, 186 N.E. 787; Matter of Marriman's Estate, 124 Misc. 320, 325, 208 N.Y.S. 672; Foley,.S. affirmed 217 App. Div. 733, 216 N.Y.S.
To that end, the court is, in effect, an additional party to every litigation affecting the disposal of the assets of the deceased. Matter of Van Valkenburgh's Estate, 164 Misc.
295, 296, 298 N.Y.S. 219. A determination, therefore, that the mere non-action of a person upon ivhmn no legal duty rested in this regard, could have the effect of subverting the wishes of one who was no longer able to protect his own... unquestionable rights, would strike at the very foundation of all conceptions of justice as administered i... n probate courts.'
These decisions are of high persuasive value (Cu vs. Republic, G. R. L-3018, July 18, 1951); they represent the trend of authority (57 Am. Jur. 535), and enable us to conclude that reason and precedent... reject the applicability of the Statute of Limitations to probate proceedings, because these are not exclusively established in the interest of the surviving heirs, but primarily for the protection of the testator's expressed wishes, that are entitled... to respect as an effect of his ownership and right of disposition. If the probate of validly executed wills is required by public policy, as declared by the Supreme Court in the previous case, G.R.
48840 (Exhibit E), the state could not have intended the statute of limitations to defeat that policy.
Assuming that the original petition violated the order of the Supreme Court in so far as it did not ask for the allowance of the entire will, the court below erred in dismissing1 the petition,... for it thereby sanctioned further disobedience to the order of the superior court. Once again, it must be repeated that the order of dismissal failed to take into account that the case involved not only the ... interests of Eosario Guevara, and those of the appellee Ernesto Guevara and the other legatees, but specially the express desires of the testator; and that the protection and defense of the latter developed upon the court ... itself, since no one else made any move to enforce them.
'Even if the decedent left no debts and nobody raises any question as tot the authenticity and due execution of the will, none of heirs may sue for the partition of the estate in accordance with that will without first securing its allowance or... probate by the court: first, because the law expressly provides that 'no will shall pass either real or personal estate unless it is proved and allowed in the proper court; and, second, because the probate of a will, which is a proceeding in... rem, cannot be dispensed with and substituted by any other proceeding, judicial or extrajudicial, with offending against public policy designed to effectuate the testator's right to dispose of his property by will in accordance with law and to... protect the rights of the heirs and legatees under the will thru the means provided by law, among which are the publication and the personal notices to each and all of said heirs and legatees. Nor may the court approve and allow the will... presented in evidence in such an action for partition, which is one in personam, any more than it could decree the registration under the Torrens system of the land involved in an ordinary action for revindicacion or partition.'