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THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 148597. October 24, 2003.]

GRACE F. MUNSAYAC-DE VILLA, LILY F. MUNSAYAC-SUNGA and


ROY MUNSAYAC , petitioners, vs . COURT OF APPEALS; Judge
ANTONIO C. REYES, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of
Baguio City, Branch 61; NORA F. MUNSAYAC-VISPERAS
(Represented by Her Heirs); and GELACIO F. MUNSAYAC JR. ,
respondents.

Ismael M. Estella for petitioners.


Tenefrancia Agranzamendez Liceralde & Associates for respondents.

SYNOPSIS

The present controversy arose from a special proceeding case for letters of
administration of the late Munsayac Couple's intestate estate wherein Gelacio Munsayac,
Jr. was appointed as administrator pursuant to respondent Judge's order. Thereafter,
petitioners requested for the inhibition of respondent Judge. Petitioners likewise assailed
the arrest order issued by respondent Judge for them to immediately surrender in
custodia legis to the court certain amounts of money. The Court of Appeals (CA) nulli ed
the arrest order issued by respondent Judge ruling that he had summarily ordered the
arrest of petitioners without any written charge led against them or any hearing
conducted thereon. As to the request for inhibition, the CA held that there was no
convincing proof that the demeanor of the trial judge had put him under suspicion. Hence,
this petition where petitioners alleged that the CA erred in not ordering the inhibition of
respondent Judge.
The Supreme Court ruled that the petition for inhibition has no merit. The main case
from which this petition arose has already been decided by the CA. The decision is now
nal and executory. Already terminated in that main case was the special proceeding case
for letters of administration, which had given rise to a number of incidents and petitions
including the herein matter. The petition, therefore had already become moot and
academic in view of the termination of the main case. Now that the case has nally been
terminated, it follows that neither respondent judge nor his court has any more right to
hold the properties that were the subject of his Orders in the special proceedings.
Consequently, the Court directed respondent Judge to immediately lift any freeze
order still pending and to order the release of any property deposited in custodia legis.

SYLLABUS

1. REMEDIAL LAW; PETITION UNDER RULE 45 OF THE RULES OF COURT AND


ORDINARY APPEAL OF A CRIMINAL CASE, DISTINGUISHED; CASE AT BAR. — In a petition
under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court — as distinguished from an ordinary appeal of a
criminal case in which the whole case is opened for review — the appeal is limited to the
errors assigned by petitioner. Since respondents did not contest the Decision of the CA, no
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a rmative relief can be sought by or given to them. Thus, not all the issues raised before
the appellate court need to be considered by this Court. The sole issue in the present
Petition is the question of inhibition of respondent judge.
2. ID.; ACTIONS; PETITION FOR INHIBITION IN CASE AT BAR HAS BECOME
MOOT AND ACADEMIC IN VIEW OF THE TERMINATION OF THE MAIN CASE. — After the
CA terminated Special Proceedings No. 704-R, we see no more reason why the inhibition
of Judge Reyes should still be an issue. The Petition therefor has already become moot
and academic in view of the termination of the main case. How can he be inhibited from a
case that has already been decided with nality? It should be clear that the CA Decision
terminating Special Proceedings No. 704-R found that the Deed of Extrajudicial Partition
executed by all the parties was the " nal, complete and absolute settlement of their
respective shares and claims as heirs of deceased spouses Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and
Vicenta Munsayac." As such, any and all incidents relating to the special proceedings
should also be deemed to have been terminated.
3. ID.; ID.; JURISDICTION; A TRIBUNAL ACTING AS A PROBATE COURT
EXERCISES LIMITED JURISDICTION; CASE AT BAR. — When Judge Reyes issued his
Orders commanding the bank manager of the China Bank branch in Baguio City to freeze
the safety deposit box of petitioners and to deposit certain amounts in custodia legis, he
did so as the presiding judge in the probate court that was hearing Special Proceedings
No. 704-R. Now that the case has nally been terminated, it follows that neither he nor his
court has any more right to hold the properties that were the subject of his Orders in the
special proceedings. Needless to say, the lifting of any freeze order and the return of any
property previously deposited with the court should be effected. The judge had no more
discretion to decide whether the amounts and the property deposited should be released.
Likewise, any standing order on any property in relation to the special proceedings should
be lifted. This ruling reiterates the long-standing principle that a tribunal acting as a
probate court exercises limited jurisdiction. However, the determination of whether a
property should be included in the inventory is within its probate jurisdiction. Such
determination is only provisional — not conclusive — in character and subject to the nal
decision in a separate action that may be instituted by the parties.
4. ID.; ID.; ID.; QUESTIONS ON AN ADVANCE MADE BY THE DECEASED TO ANY
HEIR MAY BE HEARD BY THE COURT THAT HAS JURISDICTION OVER THE ESTATE
PROCEEDINGS. — [Q]uestions on an advance made or allegedly made by the deceased to
any heir may be heard and determined by the court that has jurisdiction over the estate
proceedings; and that the nal order of the court thereon shall be binding on the person
raising the questions and on the heirs.
5. ID.; ID.; ID.; A PROBATE COURT MAY NOT DECIDE A QUESTION OF TITLE OR
OWNERSHIP; EXCEPTIONS. — [G]enerally, a probate court may not decide a question of
title or ownership, but it may do so if the interested parties are all heirs; or the question is
one of collation or advancement; or the parties consent to its assumption of jurisdiction
and the rights of third parties are not impaired.

DECISION

PANGANIBAN , J : p

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Once a case has been decided with nality, a petition for the inhibition of the judge
therefrom becomes moot and academic.
The Case
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari 1 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court,
assailing the March 2, 2001 Decision 2 and the June 21, 2001 Resolution 3 of the Court of
Appeals (CA) in CA-GR SP No. 60914. The decretal portion of the Decision reads as
follows:
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present petition for certiorari and
prohibition is hereby GRANTED only insofar as nullifying and setting aside the
order of arrest contained in Respondent Judge Antonio C. Reyes' Orders dated
June 22, 2000 and August 28, 2000 in Special Proceedings 704-R, entitled 'In the
Matter of the Intestate Estate of the Late Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and the Late
Vicenta Munsayac.' DCcSHE

"No pronouncement as to costs." 4

The assailed Resolution denied both petitioners' Partial Motion for Reconsideration
5 and private respondents' Motion for Reconsideration. 6
The Facts
The facts of the case were summarized by the CA in this wise:
"A recapitulation of facts shows that the present controversy before [u]s
stems from Special Proceeding Case No. 704-R, entitled 'In the Matter of the
Intestate Estate of the Late Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and the Late Vicenta
Munsayac' and pending before Branch 61 of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio
City. The said special proceeding case was led on November 17, 1998 by Grace
F. Munsayac-De Villa ('DE VILLA'), Lily F. Munsayac-Sunga ('SUNGA') and Roy
Peter F. Munsayac ('ROY') — three (3) of the ve (5) children of the late Spouses
GELACIO and VICENTA MUNSAYAC — for letters of administration nominating DE
VILLA as administratrix of the intestate estate of their parents. DE VILLA's
nomination was opposed by the two (2) other children of the late Munsayac
Spouses, namely, Gelacio F. Munsayac, Jr. ('MUNSAYAC, JR.') and the late Nora
F. Munsayac-Visperas ('VISPERAS'), who nominated MUNSAYAC, JR. as
administrator of the late Munsayac Couple's intestate estate.

"MUNSAYAC, JR. was eventually appointed administrator pursuant to


respondent Judge's Order dated March 22, 2000, replacing Lawyer Ceasar G.
Oracion as special administrator of the said intestate estate, pursuant to the Order
dated April 27, 1998.

"Despite the approved 60-day suspension of the proceedings to enable the


parties to discuss an amicable settlement, the protracted exchange of pleadings
between the opposing siblings in Special Proceeding Case No. 704-R was of no
help in the immediate settlement of the intestate estate of the late Munsayac
Couple.

"Even the efforts of the petitioners to inhibit respondent Judge further


complicated the intestate proceedings. Thus, there was the Request for Inhibition
dated September 28, 1999, which was led by DE VILLA and SUNGA. Barely a
week after the aforesaid Request for Inhibition was led and before respondent
Judge could act on it, petitioners led a petition for certiorari, prohibition and
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mandamus which was received by this Court on October 4, 1999, docketed as CA-
G.R. SP NO. 55193 which has for its petitioners and respondents the same
respective parties involved in the present petition before [u]s, and questions,
among others, respondent Judge's Order in open court dated September 29, 1999
directing/ordering DE VILLA to produce by 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the same
date certain bank time deposit certi cates/documents; and the order of arrest of
DE VILLA by about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the same date, for failure to
produce the said bank certi cates/documents. Pending the resolution of CA-G.R.
SP NO. 55193, petitioners led an administrative case dated July 11, 2000 before
the Supreme Court, docketed as OCA IPI NO. 00-989-RTJ, which not only prayed
for respondent Judge's suspension but also his permanent removal from o ce
on grounds of grave misconduct and serious inefficiency.

"Acting on the Omnibus Motion dated April 24, 2000 which was led by the
administrator of the intestate estate, respondent Judge issued the Order dated
May 4, 2000, which underscored the order to surrender, under pain of contempt,
(a) the amount of the bank investment discovered in the names of the late
VICENTA, DE VILLA and SUNGA made with the United Coconut Planter's Bank,
Baguio City ('UCPB') under Investment Con rmation No. 0666 worth
P13,506,343.33, and which amount was not disclosed by the petitioners in the
estate return tax, (b) as well as the surrender of all the pieces of jewelry given by
the late VICENTA to DE VILLA and SUNGA, subject of the 'freeze order' with the
China Banking Corporation.
"The Court a quo substantially reiterated the import of the Order dated May
4, 2000, by issuing the Order dated May 24, 2000 and, on the account of
petitioners' failure to faithfully comply therewith, issued the Order dated June 22,
2000, which contained the following decretal portion —

'WHEREFORE, for their failure to comply with the Order of this Court
dated May 24, 2000, the petitioners Grace de Villa, Lily Sunga and Peter
Roy Munsayac are hereby ordered ARRESTED in accordance with Section
8, Rule 71, of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure, until their compliance to
immediately surrender in custodia legis to this Court for the Special
Administrator the amount of P13,506,343.33 plus the legal interest of 12%
per annum compounded annually, from May 1995 until fully complied with
or a total amount of P23,802,788.00 more or less, as of May, 2000.
'The petitioners Grace de Villa, Lily Sunga and Peter Roy Munsayac
are likewise ORDERED to surrender in custodia legis to this Court for the
Special Administrator the amount of P15,298,835.95 and P3,010,822.02
plus the legal interest of 12% per annum compounded annually, from May
1995 until fully complied with or a total amount of P32,267,868.00, more
or less, as of May 2000, within fteen (15) days from receipt of this Order.
CcSEIH

'SO ORDERED.'

and the Order dated August 23, 2000, the pertinent portion of which reads

'The order for the petitioners to surrender the amounts stated in this
Court's order dated June 22, 2000 shall stand and the order for the
petitioners' arrest shall not be lifted until their full and faithful compliance
with the order to place the said money in the legal custody of either the
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special administrator or this Court. The motion for reconsideration on the
matter of petitioners' standing order of arrest is therefore DENIED.
'SO ORDERED.'

were issued by respondent Judge and are now both subject of this present
petition . . .." 7

Ruling of the Court of Appeals


In nullifying the arrest order issued by Judge Reyes, the CA ruled that he had
summarily ordered the arrest of petitioners without any written charge led against them
or any hearing conducted thereon. According to the appellate court, "there is nothing in
Rule 71 which explicitly allows that the requirements of ling a written charge and hearing
in indirect contempt cases may be dispensed with." 8 It thus set aside the Order of Arrest
issued by respondent judge.
Ruling on the request for inhibition led by petitioners, the CA, however, held that
there was no convincing proof that the demeanor of the trial judge had put him under
suspicion, especially in the light of their clear display of contumacious behavior toward the
court. 9 It further held that their request for inhibition was unacceptable, because they had
come to the court with "unclean hands." 1 0
Hence, this Petition. 1 1
The Issue
In their Memorandum, 1 2 petitioners submit this sole issue for our consideration:
"With due respect, the Respondent Court of Appeals erred as a matter of
law in not ordering the inhibition of the respondent presiding judge who, as shown
in all his actuations and orders, [has] demonstrated vindictiveness, arbitrariness,
prejudice and bias against petitioners and partiality in favor of private
respondents thereby denying petitioners' fundamental right to be entitled to an
impartial tribunal." 1 3

The Court's Ruling


The Petition for inhibition has no merit, but the trial judge must lift the freeze order
and cause the return of property or money still in custodia legis.
Sole Issue:
Inhibition
Before delving into the issue of inhibition, we note that the CA Decision nulli ed and
set aside the Order of Arrest issued by Judge Reyes against petitioners. Consequently, the
propriety of the Order was no longer raised in this Petition. Neither was it raised by
respondents.
In a petition under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court — as distinguished from an ordinary
appeal of a criminal case in which the whole case is opened for review — the appeal is
limited to the errors assigned by petitioner. 1 4 Since respondents did not contest the
Decision of the CA, no a rmative relief can be sought by or given to them. 1 5 Thus, not all
the issues raised before the appellate court need to be considered by this Court. The sole
issue in the present Petition is the question of inhibition of respondent judge.

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We emphasize at the outset that the main case from which this Petition arose has
already been decided by the CA. The Decision is now nal and executory. 1 6 Already
terminated in that main case was Special Proceedings No. 704-R, which had given rise to a
number of incidents and petitions including the herein matter. In CA-GR SP No. 64025, the
CA found that Judge Reyes had gravely abused his discretion when he disallowed the
Extrajudicial Partition 1 7 executed by the heirs of the Munsayac spouses. Thus, the
appellate court disposed as follows:
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant special civil action is
hereby GRANTED. Accordingly, the assailed Orders dated March 1, 2001 and
March 21, 2001 are hereby NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE, and a new one ENTERED
approving the Extrajudicial Partition between the Heirs of the Spouses Gelacio J.
Munsayac, Sr. and Vicenta F. Munsayac, and terminating Special Proceedings
No. 704-R pending before respondent Court[.] The parties are hereby ENJOINED to
abide by the same." 1 8

Petitioners, however, argue that since there are still matters pending before the trial
judge, such as the withdrawal/release of money deposited in custodia legis and the lifting
of a freeze order on certain jewelry, his inhibition is still needed. 1 9
We disagree. After the CA terminated Special Proceedings No. 704-R, we see no
more reason why the inhibition of Judge Reyes should still be an issue. The Petition
therefor has already become moot and academic in view of the termination of the main
case. How can he be inhibited from a case that has already been decided with finality?
It should be clear that the CA Decision 2 0 terminating Special Proceedings No. 704-R
found that the Deed of Extrajudicial Partition executed by all the parties was the " nal,
complete and absolute settlement of their respective shares and claims as heirs of
deceased spouses Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and Vicenta Munsayac." 2 1 As such, any and all
incidents relating to the special proceedings should also be deemed to have been
terminated.
When Judge Reyes issued his Orders commanding the bank manager of the China
Bank branch in Baguio City to freeze the safety deposit box of petitioners 2 2 and to deposit
certain amounts in custodia legis, 2 3 he did so as the presiding judge in the probate court
that was hearing Special Proceedings No. 704-R. Now that the case has nally been
terminated, it follows that neither he nor his court has any more right to hold the properties
that were the subject of his Orders in the special proceedings.
Needless to say, the lifting of any freeze order and the return of any property
previously deposited with the court should be effected. The judge had no more discretion
to decide whether the amounts and the property deposited should be released. Likewise,
any standing order on any property in relation to the special proceedings should be lifted.
This ruling reiterates the long-standing principle that a tribunal acting as a probate court
exercises limited jurisdiction. 2 4 However, the determination of whether a property should
be included in the inventory is within its probate jurisdiction. Such determination is only
provisional — not conclusive — in character and subject to the nal decision in a separate
action that may be instituted by the parties. 2 5
Neither are we unmindful of the rule that questions on an advance made or allegedly
made by the deceased to any heir may be heard and determined by the court that has
jurisdiction over the estate proceedings; and that the nal order of the court thereon shall
be binding on the person raising the questions and on the heirs. 2 6
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In a train of decisions, this Court has consistently enunciated this settled, corollary
principle: generally, a probate court may not decide a question of title or ownership, but it
may do so if the interested parties are all heirs; or the question is one of collation or
advancement; or the parties consent to its assumption of jurisdiction and the rights of
third parties are not impaired. 2 7 These principles, however, have no more application in
this case, since the main proceedings for the settlement of the intestate estate of the
deceased couple have already been decided and terminated. Indeed, every litigation must
come to an end. 2 8
To be sure, this Court is not tasked to look into the ownership of the properties
deposited with or ordered frozen by the lower court during the progress of the special
proceedings. Neither can Judge Reyes do so now. Whether those properties should have
been adjudicated by the legal heirs of the Munsayac spouses is beside the point at this
time. The former have already entered into an Extrajudicial Partition representing the nal,
complete and absolute settlement of their shares as heirs of the latter. What is left to be
done is simply the lifting of any freeze order and the release of any property originally
deposited by petitioners in custodia legis.

In view of the above ruling, we deem it necessary to direct Judge Reyes to


immediately lift any freeze order still pending and to order the release of any property
deposited in custodia legis. It is already an accepted rule of procedure for this Court to
strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding, leaving no root or branch to
bear the seeds of future litigation. 2 9 To achieve that end and to expedite the case in the
interest of substantial justice, a directive to the trial judge to lift the freeze order and
release the property deposited with the court becomes indispensable. 3 0
WHEREFORE, the prayer for the inhibition of Judge Antonio C. Reyes is hereby
DENIED for being moot and academic. However, he is DIRECTED to immediately lift any
order he made on properties relative to Special Proceedings No. 704-R. He is further
ORDERED to cause the return of any amount or property originally deposited by petitioners
in custodia legis. No pronouncement as to costs. acCDSH

SO ORDERED.
Puno, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona and Carpio Morales, JJ ., concur.

Footnotes

1. Rollo, pp. 10–33.


2. Annex "A" of the Petition; rollo, pp. 34–40. Penned by Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr. and
concurred in by justices Conrado M. Vasquez Jr. (Division chairman) and Perlita J. Tria
Tirona (member).
3. Annex "B" of the Petition; rollo, pp. 42–44.

4. CA Decision, p. 6; rollo, p. 39.


5. CA rollo, pp. 298–309.
6. Id., pp. 402–411.
7. CA Decision, pp. 2–4; rollo, pp. 35–37. Citations omitted.
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8. CA Decision, p. 6; rollo, p. 39.
9. CA Resolution dated June 21, 2001, p. 2; rollo, p. 43.

10. Id., pp. 3 & 44.


11. The case was deemed submitted for decision on July 10, 2002, upon this Court's
receipt of petitioners' "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration,"
which was signed by Atty. Ismael M. Estella. Earlier or on March 20, 2002, this Court
received petitioners' Memorandum signed by the same counsel. Private respondents'
Memorandum, signed by Attys. Reynaldo U. Agranzamendez and Miguel B. Liceralde
was filed with this Court on April 15, 2002.

12 Rollo, pp. 107–127.


13. Petitioners' Memorandum, p. 12; rollo, p. 118. Original in upper case.
14. Manalili v. CA, 345 Phil. 632, October 9, 1997.
15. Rayandayan v. CA, 373 Phil. 27, September 14, 1999; China Banking Corporation v.
NLRC, 329 Phil. 608, August 22, 1996.
16. See Entry of Judgment dated June 17, 2002 in CA-GR SP No. 64025; Annex "A" of
petitioners' "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration"; rollo, p. 160.
17. Records, Vol. III, pp. 834–837.
18. CA Decision dated November 29, 2001, p. 12; rollo, p. 99.

19. Petitioners' "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration," p. 2; id., p.


158.

20. Dated November 29, 2001; records, Vol. III, pp. 883-895; penned by Justice Ramon A.
Barcelona (Division chairman) and concurred in by Justices Bernardo P. Abesamis and
Perlita J. Tria Tirona (members).
21. CA Decision dated November 29, 2001, pp. 4-5; id., pp. 886-887.
22. Order dated March 24, 1999, records, Vol. I, p. 142.

23. Order dated May 4, 2000, records, Vol. II, pp. 1037-1045; Order dated May 24, 2000, id.,
pp. 1103-1104.

24. Heirs of Oscar R. Reyes v. Reyes, 345 SCRA 541, November 22, 2000; Lim v. CA, 380
Phil. 60, January 24, 2000.
25. Heirs of Oscar R. Reyes v. Reyes, supra; Sanchez v. CA, 345 Phil. 155, September 29,
1997; Valera v. Inserto, 149 SCRA 533, May 7, 1987.
26. Natcher v. CA, 418 Phil. 669, October 2, 2001.
27. Ibid.; Coca v. Borromeo, 81 SCRA 278, January 31, 1978.
28. Province of Camarines Norte v. Province of Quezon, 419 Phil. 372, October 11, 2001;
Flores v. CA, 328 Phil. 992, July 29, 1996.
29. San Luis v. CA, 417 Phil. 598, September 13, 2001; Ching v. CA, 387 Phil. 28, April 27,
2000; De los Reyes v. CA, 372 Phil. 522, September 3, 1999.

30. De los Reyes v. CA, supra; Golangco v. CA, 347 Phil. 771, December 22, 1997; Heirs of
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Gabriel Almoradi v. CA, 229 SCRA 15, January 4, 1994.

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