Sometime in 1997, several individuals entered one of the corporation’s properties, occupying 2,940 square meters of the area.They began to cut down coconut trees, built improvements on the land, and fenced the surrounding area.The corporation wrote the individuals a letter, with the request to immediately vacate the premises.
The request was ignored, hence, the filing of a complaint for forcible entry.The individuals insisted that even before the sale of the property to the corporation, they had already been in possession of the property and remained in actual and physical possession of the property.
The Municipal Circuit Trial Court declared the corporation the lawful owner of the property.Proof of its prior possession consisted of the deed of sale between the holding company and the corporation, tax declarations issued to the corporation, and the “act of leasing other portions of the land to others in the exercise of its right of onership and possession.” The decision was supported by the Regional Trial Court.In contrast, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower courts, holding that the corporation was not able to establish prior possession of the land.
The Supreme Court (SC) reverted back to the ruling of the lower courts that prior possession was clearly established by the corporation.Thus, the individuals could lawfully be ejected. The Court reiterated several rules governing forcible entry –
In an action for forcible entry, the plaintiff must prove that he was in prior possession of the disputed property and that the defendant deprived him of his possession by any of the means provided for in Section 1, Rule 70 of the Rules [of Court], namely: force, intimidation, threats, strategy, and stealth… [P]ossession in the eyes of the law does not mean that a man has to have his feet on every square meter of the ground before he is deemed in possession.
In proving that an owner was deprived of his own property through the use of force, intimidation, threats, strategy, and stealth, the SC referred to jurisprudence to explain what amounted to force.Citing Estel v. Heirs of Recaredo P. Diego, Sr., the Court held that “unlawfully entering the subject property and excluding therefrom the prior possessor would necessarily imply the use of force and this is all that is necessary.In order to constitute force, the trespasser does not have to institute a state of war.No other proof is necessary.”
Arbizo v. Santillan held that the “acts of unlawfully entering the disputed premises, erecting a structure thereon, and excluding therefrom the prior possessor would necessarily imply the use of force.”
The Court further explained the definition of “force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth” in David v. Cordova –
“[f]orce, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth” include every situation or condition under which one person can wrongfully enter upon real property and exclude another, who has had prior possession therefrom.If a trespasser enters upon land in open daylight, under the very eyes of the person already clothed with lawful possession, but without the consent of the latter, and there plants himself and excludes such prior possessor from the property, the action of forcibly entry and detainer can unquestionably be maintained, even though no force is used by the trespasser other than such as is necessarily implied from the mere acts of planting himself on the ground and excluding the other party.
The Court also pointed out that the individuals occupying the land never claimed ownership or possession of the land(Philippine Tourism Authority v. Sabandan-Herzenstiel, G.R. No. 196741, 17 July 2013, J. Perlas-Bernabe).