August 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law, Criminal Law and Legal/Judicial Ethics

Here are selected August 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on remedial law, criminal law and legal/judicial ethics.

Remedial Law

Action;  accion publiciana.  Accion publiciana, also known as accion plenaria de posesion, is an ordinary civil proceeding to determine the better right of possession of realty independently of title. It refers to an ejectment suit filed after the expiration of one year from the accrual of the cause of action or from the unlawful withholding of possession of the realty.

The objective of the plaintiffs in accion publiciana is to recover possession only, not ownership. However, where the parties raise the issue of ownership, the courts may pass upon the issue to determine who between or among the parties has the right to possess the property. This adjudication, however, is not a final and binding determination of the issue of ownership; it is only for the purpose of resolving the issue of possession, where the issue of ownership is inseparably linked to the issue of possession. The adjudication of the issue of ownership, being provisional, is not a bar to an action between the same parties involving title to the property. The adjudication, in short, is not conclusive on the issue of ownership. Francisco Madrid and Edgardo Bernardo vs. Spouses Bonifacio Mapoy and Felicidad Martinez, G.R. No. 150887, August 14, 2009.

Action;  filing fees. Upon deeper reflection, we find that the movants’ claim has merit. The 600,000 shares of stock were, indeed, properties in litigation. They were the subject matter of the complaint, and the relief prayed for entailed the nullification of the transfer thereof and their return to LLDC. David, et al., are minority shareholders of the corporation who claim to have been prejudiced by the sale of the shares of stock to the Lu Ym father and sons. Thus, to the extent of the damage or injury they allegedly have suffered from this sale of the shares of stock, the action they filed can be characterized as one capable of pecuniary estimation. The shares of stock have a definite value, which was declared by plaintiffs themselves in their complaint. Accordingly, the docket fees should have been computed based on this amount. This is clear from the version of Rule 141, Section 7 in effect at the time the complaint was filed. David Lu Vs. Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al./Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al. Vs. David Lu/ John Lu Ym and Ludo & Luym Development Corporation Vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals of Cebu City (former twentieth division), et al., G.R. No. 153690/G.R. No. 157381/G.R. No. 170889, August 4, 2009.

Action;  filing fees.  From the foregoing, it is clear that a notice of lis pendens is availed of mainly in real actions. Hence, when David, et al., sought the annotation of notices of lis pendens on the titles of LLDC, they acknowledged that the complaint they had filed affected a title to or a right to possession of real properties. At the very least, they must have been fully aware that the docket fees would be based on the value of the realties involved. Their silence or inaction to point this out to the Clerk of Court who computed their docket fees, therefore, becomes highly suspect, and thus, sufficient for this Court to conclude that they have crossed beyond the threshold of good faith and into the area of fraud. Clearly, there was an effort to defraud the government in avoiding to pay the correct docket fees. Consequently, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the case.  David Lu Vs. Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al./Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al. Vs. David Lu/ John Lu Ym and Ludo & Luym Development Corporation Vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals of Cebu City (former twentieth division), et al., G.R. No. 153690/G.R. No. 157381/G.R. No. 170889, August 4, 2009.

Action; filing fees. The Constitution guarantees the rights of the poor to free access to the courts and to adequate legal assistance. The legal aid service rendered by the NCLA and legal aid offices of IBP chapters nationwide addresses only the right to adequate legal assistance. Recipients of the service of the NCLA and legal aid offices of IBP chapters may enjoy free access to courts by exempting them from the payment of fees assessed in connection with the filing of a complaint or action in court. With these twin initiatives, the guarantee of Section 11, Article III of Constitution is advanced and access to justice is increased by bridging a significant gap and removing a major roadblock. Re: Request of National Committee on Legal Aid to exempt legal aid clients from paying filing, docket and other fees, A.M. No. 08-11-7-SC, August 28, 2009.

Action;  lis pendens. A notice of lis pendens is an announcement to the whole world that a particular real property is in litigation, serving as a warning that one who acquires interest over said property does so at his own risk, or that he gambles on the result of the litigation over the said property. The filing of a notice of lis pendens charges all strangers with notice of the particular litigation referred to therein and, therefore, any right they may thereafter acquire over the property is subject to the eventuality of the suit. Such announcement is founded upon public policy and necessity, the purpose of which is to keep the properties in litigation within the power of the court until the litigation is terminated and to prevent the defeat of the judgment or decree by subsequent alienation.

As a general rule, the only instances in which a notice of lis pendens may be availed of are as follows: (a) an action to recover possession of real estate; (b) an action for partition; and (c) any other court proceedings that directly affect the title to the land or the building thereon or the use or the occupation thereof. Additionally, this Court has held that resorting to lis pendens is not necessarily confined to cases that involve title to or possession of real property. This annotation also applies to suits seeking to establish a right to, or an equitable estate or interest in, a specific real property; or to enforce a lien, a charge or an encumbrance against it.  David Lu Vs. Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al./Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al. Vs. David Lu/ John Lu Ym and Ludo & Luym Development Corporation Vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals of Cebu City (former twentieth division), et al., G.R. No. 153690/G.R. No. 157381/G.R. No. 170889, August 4, 2009.

Action;  reconstitution. The sufficiency of the Register of Deeds’ report is not an indispensable requirement in reconstitution cases. The report may even be disregarded.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Agripina Dela Raga, G.R. No. 161042, August 24, 2009.

Appeal; bond. The filing of a supersedeas bond for the perfection of an appeal is mandatory and jurisdictional. The requirement that employers post a cash or surety bond to perfect their appeal is apparently intended to assure workers that if they prevail in the case, they will receive the money judgment in their favor upon the dismissal of the former’s appeal. It was intended to discourage employers from using an appeal to delay, or even evade, their obligations to satisfy their employees’ just and lawful claims.  Cesario L. Del Rosario  vs. Philippine Journalists, Inc., G.R. No. 181516, August 19, 2009.

Appeal; fees. Time and again, we have ruled that the payment of the full amount of docket fee within the period to appeal is a sine qua non requirement for the perfection of an appeal. Such payment is not a mere technicality of law or procedure, but an essential requirement, without which the decision or final order appealed from becomes final and executory, as if no appeal was filed. Ricardo C. Duco vs. The Hon. Commission on Elections, First Division, and Narciso B. Avelino, G.R. No. 183366, August 19, 2009.

Appeal;  fees. When petitioner’s appeal was perfected on January 10, 2008, within five (5) days from promulgation, his non-payment or insufficient payment of the appeal fee to the Comelec Cash Division should not have resulted in the outright dismissal of his appeal. The Comelec Rules provide in Section 9 (a), Rule 22, that for failure to pay the correct appeal fee, the appeal may be dismissed upon motion of either party or at the instance of the Comelec. Likewise, Section 18, Rule 40 thereof also prescribes that if the fees are not paid, the Comelec may refuse to take action on the appeal until the said fees are paid and may dismiss the action or the proceeding.

Here, petitioner paid P1,200.00 to the Comelec on February 14, 2008. Unfortunately, the Comelec First Division dismissed the appeal on March 17, 2008 due to petitioner’s failure to pay the correct appeal fee within the five-day reglementary period. In denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, the Comelec En Banc, in the Resolution dated January 21, 2009, declared that the Comelec did not acquire jurisdiction over the appeal because of the non-payment of the appeal fee on time.

However, during the pendency of petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration dated March 27, 2008, the Comelec promulgated Resolution No. 8486 to clarify the implementation of the Comelec Rules regarding the payment of filing fees. Thus, applying the mandated liberal construction of election laws, the Comelec should have initially directed the petitioner to pay the correct appeal fee with the Comelec Cash Division, and should not have dismissed outright petitioner’s appeal. This would have been more in consonance with the intent of the said resolution which sought to clarify the rules on compliance with the required appeal fees. Constancio D. Pacanan, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Francisco M. Langi, Sr., G.R. No. 186224, August 25, 2009.

Appeal; non-forum shopping. The perfection of an appeal necessarily includes the filing of a complete (not a defective) memorandum of appeal within the ten (10) day reglementary period. Petitioner conveniently disregards that the NLRC Rules of Procedure requires the appeal to be accompanied by a Certificate of Non-Forum Shopping. Thus, petitioner’s filing of a memorandum of appeal without the requisite certificate did not stop the running of the period to perfect an appeal. In short, the Order of Execution of the Labor Arbiter became final and executory. Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company vs. Rizalina Raut, et al., G.R. No. 174209, August 25, 2009.

Appeal;  Ombudsman. The threshold issue in this petition is the procedural question of whether a complainant in an administrative case before the Office of the Ombudsman has the right to appeal a judgment exonerating the respondent from liability.

By statute and regulation, a decision of the Ombudsman absolving the respondent of the administrative charge is final and unappealable.  Prudencio M. Reyes, Jr. vs. Simplicio C. Belisario and Emmanuel S. Malicdem, G.R. No. 154652, August 15, 2009.

Appeal; period. As early as 2005, the Court categorically declared in Neypes v. Court of Appeals that by virtue of the power of the Supreme Court to amend, repeal and create new procedural rules in all courts, the Court is allowing a fresh period of 15 days within which to file a notice of appeal in the RTC, counted from receipt of the order dismissing or denying a motion for new trial or motion for reconsideration. This would standardize the appeal periods provided in the Rules and do away with the confusion as to when the 15-day appeal period should be counted. Rodrigo Sumiran vs. Spouses Generoso Damaso and Eva Damaso, G.R. No. 162518, August 19, 2009.

Appeal; period. There is no dispute that Guinmapang received a copy of the Labor Arbiter’s Decision on 23 June 2003. Thus, pursuant to Article 223 of the Labor Code and Section 1, Rule VI of the 2005 Revised Rules of the NLRC, Guinmapang had only until 3 July 2003, the 10th calendar day from 23 June 2003, within which to file an appeal. However, due to the asthma attack suffered by Guinmapang’s counsel, Guinmapang’s appeal was filed on 4 July 2003, a day late.

The general rule is that the perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period prescribed by law is, not only mandatory, but jurisdictional, and failure to conform to the rules will render the judgment sought to be reviewed final and unappealable. By way of exception, unintended lapses are disregarded so as to give due course to appeals filed beyond the reglementary period on the basis of strong and compelling reasons, such as serving the ends of justice and preventing a grave miscarriage thereof. The purpose behind the limitation of the period of appeal is to avoid an unreasonable delay in the administration of justice and to put an end to controversies.  Republic Cement Corporation vs. Peter Guinmapang, G.R. No. 168910, August 24, 2009.

Appeal;  scope. It is well-settled that issues not raised in the trial court may not be raised for the first time on appeal. Furthermore, defenses and objections not pleaded either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer are deemed waived. Foundation Specialist, Inc. vs. Betonval Ready Concrete, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 170674, August 24, 2009.

Arbitration.  The law speaks of two modes of arbitration: (a) an agreement to submit to arbitration some future dispute, usually stipulated upon in a civil contract between the parties, and known as an agreement to submit to arbitration, and (b) an agreement submitting an existing matter of difference to arbitrators, termed the submission agreement. Article XX of the milling contract is an agreement to submit to arbitration because it was made in anticipation of a dispute that might arise between the parties after the contract’s execution.

Except where a compulsory arbitration is provided by statute, the first step toward the settlement of a difference by arbitration is the entry by the parties into a valid agreement to arbitrate. An agreement to arbitrate is a contract, the relation of the parties is contractual, and the rights and liabilities of the parties are controlled by the law of contracts. In an agreement for arbitration, the ordinary elements of a valid contract must appear, including an agreement to arbitrate some specific thing, and an agreement to abide by the award, either in express language or by implication.

The requirements that an arbitration agreement must be written and subscribed by the parties thereto were enunciated by the Court in B.F. Corporation v. CA.
Simply put, petitioners do not have any agreement to arbitrate with respondents.  Ormoc Sugarcane Planters’ Association, Inc. (OSPA), Occidental Leyte Farmer’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative Inc., et al. vs. The Court of Appeals (Special Former Sixth Division), et al., G.R. No. 156660, August 24, 2009.

Arrest;  warrantless. For the warrantless arrest under this Rule to be valid, two requisites must concur: (1) the offender has just committed an offense; and (2) the arresting peace officer or private person has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it.

Personal knowledge of facts must be based on probable cause, which means an actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion. The grounds of suspicion are reasonable when, in the absence of actual belief of the arresting officers, the suspicion that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing the offense is based on actual facts, i.e., supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to create the probable cause of guilt of the person to be arrested. A reasonable suspicion, therefore, must be founded on probable cause, coupled with good faith on the part of the peace officers making the arrest.

Section 5, Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure does not require the arresting officers to personally witness the commission of the offense with their own eyes. In this case, P/Supt. Doria received a report about the alleged shooting incident. SPO3 Ramirez investigated the report and learned from witnesses that petitioner was involved in the incident. They were able to track down petitioner, but when invited to the police headquarters to shed light on the incident, petitioner initially agreed then sped up his vehicle, prompting the police authorities to give chase. Petitioner’s act of trying to get away, coupled with the incident report which they investigated, is enough to raise a reasonable suspicion on the part of the police authorities as to the existence of probable cause. Judge Felimon Abelita, III vs. P/Supt. German Doria and SPO3 Cesar Ramirez, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009.

Arrest; warrantless. Appellant questions his arrest without warrant, not any of the instances when a warrantless arrest – the person to be arrested must have committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense –having been allegedly present when he was arrested.

The records do not show that appellant raised any question on the legality of his arrest before he was arraigned or in his petition for bail. By submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the court and presenting evidence in his defense, appellant voluntarily waived his constitutional protection against illegal arrest.

In any event, appellant forgets that from the evidence for the prosecution, he was arrested while committing a crime – peddling of illegal drugs, a circumstance where warrantless arrest is justified under Rule 113, Section 5(a) of the Rules. People of the Philippines vs. Willie Rivera, G.R. No. 177741, August 27, 2009.

Dismissal; forum shopping.  Forum shopping is defined as an act of a party, against whom an adverse judgment or order has been rendered in one forum, of seeking and possibly getting a favorable opinion in another forum, other than by appeal or special civil action for certiorari. It may also be the institution of two or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause on the supposition that one or the other court would make a favorable disposition. There is forum shopping where the elements of litis pendentia are present, namely: (a) there is identity of parties, or at least such parties as represent the same interest in both actions; (b) there is identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same set of facts; and (c) the identity of the two preceding particulars is such that any judgment rendered in the pending case, regardless of which party is successful, would amount to res judicata in the other. It is expressly prohibited by this Court because it trifles with and abuses court processes, degrades the administration of justice, and congests court dockets. A willful and deliberate violation of the rule against forum shopping is a ground for summary dismissal of the case, and may also constitute direct contempt.

In this case, there is clearly no forum shopping committed by ASBT. The July 5, 2001 motion it filed praying for reconsideration of the June 19, 2001 Resolution of the Court of Appeals, dismissing the petition on the technical ground of lack of proof of the authority of ASBT President Mildred R. Santos to bind the corporation in its appeal, is simply what it is, a motion for reconsideration. Sameer cannot insist that it be treated as a new petition just to make it fit the definition of forum shopping in an attempt to evade liability to pay the amounts awarded to Santos, et al. Nor was Sameer correct when it asseverated that the Seventh Division, that initially dismissed then reinstated ASBT’s petition, and the Former Fourth Division, that rendered the questioned Decision and Resolution in favor of ASBT, can be considered as different fora within the ambit of the prohibition. They are mere divisions of one and the same Court of Appeals. And as explained by the appellate court, what actually happened was that after the Seventh Division issued its June 19, 2001 Resolution dismissing the case for failure of ASBT to show that Mildred R. Santos was authorized to sign and bind the corporation in the proceedings, ASBT complied and submitted the requisite proof of authority. The Seventh Division then issued a Resolution on August 14, 2001 reinstating the petition. After an internal reorganization, it was the Fourth Division which promulgated a decision on December 10, 2001. ASBT never filed a second petition.  Sameer Overseas Placement Agency, Inc. vs. Mildred R. Santos, etc. et al., G.R. No. 152579, August 4, 2009.

Dismissal;  forum shopping. Forum shopping can be committed in three ways: (1) filing multiple cases based on the same cause of action and with the same prayer, the previous case not having been resolved yet (where the ground for dismissal is litis pendentia); (2) filing multiple cases based on the same cause of action and the same prayer, the previous case having been finally resolved (where the ground for dismissal is res judicata); and (3) filing multiple cases based on the same cause of action, but with different prayers (splitting of causes of action, where the ground for dismissal is also either litis pendentia or res judicata).

In the present case, there is no dispute that petitioners failed to state in the Certificate of Non-Forum Shopping, attached to their Verified Complaint in Civil Case No. CV-05-0402 before RTC-Branch 195, the existence of Civil Case No. CV-01-0207 pending before RTC-Branch 258. Nevertheless, petitioners insist that they are not guilty of forum shopping, since (1) the two cases do not have the same ultimate objective – Civil Case No. CV-01-0207 seeks the annulment of the 8 November 2001 public auction and certificate of sale issued therein, while Civil Case No. CV-05-0402 prays for the award of actual and compensatory damages for respondents’ tortuous act of making it appear that an auction sale actually took place on 8 November 2001; and (2) the judgment in Civil Case No. CV-01-0207, on the annulment of the foreclosure sale, would not affect the outcome of Civil Case No. CV-05-0402, on the entitlement of petitioners to damages. The Court, however, finds these arguments refuted by the allegations made by petitioners themselves in their Complaints in both cases.

Petitioners committed forum shopping by filing multiple cases based on the same cause of action, although with different prayers. Fidel O. Chua and Filiden Realty and Development Corporation vs. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, et al, G.R. No. 182311, August 19, 2009.

Dismissal;  laches. Laches, or what is known as the doctrine of stale claim or demand, is the neglect or omission to assert a right, taken in conjunction with lapse of time and other circumstances causing prejudice to an adverse party, as will operate as a bar in equity. It is a delay in the assertion of a right which works disadvantage to another because of the inequity founded on some change in the condition of the property involved or in the relations of the parties. It is based on public policy which, for the peace of society, ordains that relief will be denied to a stale demand which otherwise could be a valid claim.

As a ground for the dismissal of a complaint, the doctrine of laches is embraced in the broad provision in Section 1 of Rule 16 of the Rules of Court, which enumerates the various grounds on which a motion to dismiss may be based. Paragraph (h) thereof states that the fact that the claim or demand set forth in the plaintiff’s pleading has been paid, waived, abandoned, or otherwise extinguished, may be raised in a motion to dismiss. The language of the rule, particularly on the relation of the words “abandoned” and “otherwise extinguished” to the phrase “claim or demand set forth in the plaintiff’s pleading” is broad enough to include within its ambit the defense of bar by laches.  Antonio Navarro  vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company/Clarita P. Navarro vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, G.R. No. 165697/G.R. No. 166481, August 4, 2009.

Dismissal;  prescription.  Initially, we confront the issue of whether the action has prescribed, considering that several years have already passed since TCT No. N-19781 was issued, and petitioner’s title has already become indefeasible and incontrovertible. The contention apparently lacks merit. The records reveal that the respondents have been in possession of the subject property since 1938. Jurisprudence abounds in holding that, if a person claiming to be the owner is in actual possession of the property, the right to seek reconveyance, which in effect seeks to quiet title to the property, does not prescribe. Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corporation vs. Heirs of Vicente Coronado, et, G.R. No. 180357, August 4, 2009.

Dismissal; res judicata. The principle of res judicata denotes that a final judgment or decree on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive of the rights of the parties or their privies in all later suits on all points and matters determined in their former suit. It obtains where a court of competent jurisdiction has rendered a final judgment or order on the merits of the case, which operates as an absolute bar against a subsequent action for the same cause. A substantial identity is necessary to warrant the application of the rule, and the addition or elimination of some parties or the difference in form and nature of the two actions would not alter the situation. In other words, when material facts or questions in issue in a former action were conclusively settled by a judgment rendered therein, such facts or questions constitute res judicata and may not be again litigated in a subsequent action between the same parties or their privies regardless of the form of the latter.  Antonio Navarro  vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company/Clarita P. Navarro vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, G.R. No. 165697/G.R. No. 166481, August 4, 2009.

Dismissal; res judicata.  While the present case and the administrative case are based on the same essential facts and circumstances, the doctrine of res judicata will not apply. An administrative case deals with the administrative liability which may be incurred by the respondent for the commission of the acts complained of. The case before us deals with the civil liability for damages of the police authorities. There is no identity of causes of action in the cases. While identity of causes of action is not required in the application of res judicata in the concept of conclusiveness of judgment, it is required that there must always be identity of parties in the first and second cases.

There is no identity of parties between the present case and the administrative case. The administrative case was filed by Benjamin Sia Lao (Sia Lao) against petitioner. Sia Lao is not a party to this case. Respondents in the present case were not parties to the administrative case between Sia Lao and petitioner. In the present case, petitioner is the complainant against respondents. Hence, while res judicata is not a defense to petitioner’s complaint for damages, respondents nevertheless cannot be held liable for damages as discussed above.   Judge Felimon Abelita, III vs. P/Supt. German Doria and SPO3 Cesar Ramirez, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009.

Evidence; circumstantial. To uphold a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, it is essential that the circumstantial evidence presented must constitute an unbroken chain which leads one to a fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to the accused, to the exclusion of the others, as the guilty person. Circumstantial evidence on record will be sufficient to convict the accused if it shows a series of circumstances duly proved and consistent with each other. Each and every circumstance must be consistent with the accused’s guilt and inconsistent with the accused’s innocence. The circumstances must be proved, and not themselves presumed. People of the Philippines vs. Lito Macabare y Lopez, G.R. No. 179941, August 25, 2009.

Evidence;  presumption of innocence. In sustaining the prosecution’s case, the lower courts inevitably relied on the evidentiary presumption that official duties have been regularly performed. This presumption, it must be emphasized, is not conclusive. Not only is it rebutted by contrary proof, as here, but it is also inferior to the constitutional presumption of innocence. All told, we find merit in appellant’s claim that the prosecution failed to discharge its burden of proving her guilt beyond reasonable doubt due to substantial gaps in the chain of custody, raising reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the corpus delicti.  People of the Philippines vs. Marian Coroche y Caber, G.R. No. 182528, August 14, 2009.

Evidence;  presumption of regularity. Macabare claims also that the rebuttable presumption that official duty has been regularly performed cannot by itself prevail over the presumption of innocence that an accused enjoys. This claim is valid to a point. Indeed, the constitutional presumption of innocence assumes primacy over the presumption of regularity. We cannot, however, apply this principle to the instant case. The circumstantial evidence imputing animus posidendi to Macabare over the prohibited substance found in his kubol coupled with the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions constitutes proof of guilt of Macabare beyond a reasonable doubt. More so, the defense failed to present clear and convincing evidence that the police officers did not properly perform their duty or that they were inspired by an improper motive in falsely imputing a serious crime to Macabare.  People of the Philippines vs. Lito Macabare y Lopez, G.R. No. 179941, August 25, 2009.

Evidence; pro reo principle. We apply the pro reo principle and the equipoise rule in this case. Where the evidence on an issue of fact is in question or there is doubt on which side the evidence weighs, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused. If inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of two or more explanations, one consistent with the innocence of the accused and the other consistent with his guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and will not justify a conviction. Julius Amanquiton vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 186080, August 14, 2009.

Evidence;  rape.  At the heart of almost all rape cases is the issue of credibility of the witnesses, to be resolved primarily by the trial court, which is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying. The manner of assigning values to declarations of witnesses on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge, who has the unique and unmatched opportunity to observe the witnesses and assess their credibility. In essence, when the question arises as to which of the conflicting versions of the prosecution and the defense is worthy of belief, the assessment of the trial court is generally given the highest degree of respect, if not finality. Accordingly, its findings are entitled to the highest degree of respect and will not be disturbed on appeal in the absence of any showing that the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight or substance which would otherwise affect the result of the case. The assessment made by the trial court is even more enhanced when the Court of Appeals affirms the same, as in this case. People of the Philippines vs. Dante Gragasin Y Par, G.R. No. 186496, August 25, 2009.

Evidence;  rape.  In resolving rape cases, this Court is guided by the following principles: (a) an accusation for rape can be made with facility; it is difficult to prove but even more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; (b) in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime where only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; (c) the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merit, and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense; and (d) the evaluation of the trial court judges regarding the credibility of witnesses deserves utmost respect on the ground that they are in the best position to observe the demeanor, act, conduct, and attitude of the witnesses in court while testifying. People of the Philippines vs. Edwin Mejia, G.R .No. 185723, August 4, 2009. see People of the Philippines vs. Jesus Paragas Cruz; G.R. No. 186129, August 4, 2009. see People of the Philippines vs. Lilio U. Achas, G.R. No. 185712, August 4, 2009.  see People of the Philippines vs. Armando Ferasol, G.R. No. 185004, August 25, 2009.

Expropriation; classification of land. This Court recognizes the power of a local government to reclassify and convert lands through local ordinance, especially if said ordinance is approved by the HLURB. In Pasong Bayabas Farmers Association, Inc. v. Court Appeals, we acknowledged the power of local government units to adopt zoning ordinances. Discretion is vested in the appropriate government agencies to determine the suitability of a land for residential, commercial, industrial or other purposes. It is also a settled rule that an ordinance enjoys the presumption of validity. Having the power to classify lands, the local government unit may consider factors that are just, reasonable and legal, for it is within the local government unit’s power to determine these. However, if they abuse their authority in the performance of this duty, the courts, if prompted, can step in.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Department of Public Works and Highways vs.. Far East Enterprises, Inc., et al.,  G.R. No. 176487, August 25, 2009.

Expropriation;  writ of possession. Under Republic Act No. 8974, the requirements for authorizing immediate entry in expropriation proceedings involving real property are: (1) the filing of a complaint for expropriation sufficient in form and substance; (2) due notice to the defendant; (3) payment of an amount equivalent to 100% of the value of the property based on the current relevant zonal valuation of the BIR including payment of the value of the improvements and/or structures if any, or if no such valuation is available and in cases of utmost urgency, the payment of the proffered value of the property to be seized; and (4) presentation to the court of a certificate of availability of funds from the proper officials.

Upon compliance with the requirements, a complainant in an expropriation case is entitled to a writ of possession as a matter of right, and it becomes the ministerial duty of the trial court to forthwith issue the writ of possession. No hearing is required, and the court exercises neither its discretion nor its judgment in determining the amount of the provisional value of the properties to be expropriated, as the legislature has fixed the amount under Section 4 of Republic Act No. 8974.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Department of Public Works and Highways vs. Far East Enterprises, Inc., et al.,  G.R. No. 176487, August 25, 2009.

Foreclosure;  writ of possession. Sec. 7 of Act No. 3135, as amended, refers to a situation wherein the purchaser seeks possession of the foreclosed property during the 12-month period for redemption. Upon the purchaser’s filing of the ex parte petition and posting of the appropriate bond, the RTC shall, as a matter of course, order the issuance of the writ of possession in the purchaser’s favor.

But equally well settled is the rule that a writ of possession will issue as a matter of course, even without the filing and approval of a bond, after consolidation of ownership and the issuance of a new TCT in the name of the purchaser. In IFC Service Leasing and Acceptance Corporation v. Nera, We reasoned that if under Sec. 7 of Act No. 3135, as amended, the RTC has the power during the period of redemption to issue a writ of possession on the ex parte application of the purchaser, there is no reason why it should not also have the same power after the expiration of the redemption period, especially where a new title had already been issued in the name of the purchaser. Put simply, a purchaser seeking possession of the foreclosed property he bought at the public auction sale, after the redemption period expired without redemption having been made, may still avail itself of the procedure under Sec. 7 of Act No. 3135, as amended; this time, without any more need for the purchaser to furnish a bond.

Possession of the foreclosed real property, purchased at a public auction sale, becomes the absolute right of the purchaser upon the consolidation of his title when no timely redemption of the said property had been made. Hence, the general rule is that upon proper application and proof of title, the issuance of the writ of possession to the purchaser of the foreclosed property at a public auction sale becomes a ministerial duty of the court.

However, as in all general rules, there is an exception. In an extrajudicial foreclosure of real property, when the foreclosed property is in the possession of a third party holding the same adversely to the defaulting debtor/mortgagor, the issuance by the RTC of a writ of possession in favor of the purchaser of the said real property ceases to be ministerial and may no longer be done ex parte. But, for the exception to apply, the property must be possessed by a third party; and such possession must be adverse to the debtor/mortgagor. Top Art Shirt Manufacturing Inc., Maximo Arejola and Tan Shu Keng vs. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Inc. and the Court of the Appeals, G.R. No. 184005, August 4, 2009.

Foreclosure;  writ of possession. The issuance of a writ of possession to a purchaser in an extrajudicial foreclosure is summary and ministerial in nature as such proceeding is merely an incident in the transfer of title. The trial court does not exercise discretion in the issuance thereof. For this reason, an order for the issuance of a writ of possession is not the judgment on the merits contemplated by Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution. Hence, the CA correctly upheld the December 10, 2005 order of the Bulacan RTC.

Furthermore, the mortgagor loses all legal interest over the foreclosed property after the expiration of the redemption period. Under Section 47 of the General Banking Law, if the mortgagor is a juridical person, it can exercise the right to redeem the foreclosed property until, but not after, the registration of the certificate of foreclosure sale within three months after foreclosure, whichever is earlier. Thereafter, such mortgagor loses its right of redemption. GC Dalton Industries, Inc. vs. Equitable PCI Bank, G.R. No. 171169. August 24, 2009.

Guardianship. Under Section 2, Rule 92 of the Rules of Court, persons who, though of sound mind but by reason of age, disease, weak mind or other similar causes are incapable of taking care of themselves and their property without outside aid, are considered as incompetents who may properly be placed under guardianship. The RTC and the CA both found that Lulu was incapable of taking care of herself and her properties without outside aid due to her ailments and weak mind. Thus, since determining whether or not Lulu is in fact an incompetent would require a reexamination of the evidence presented in the courts a quo, it undoubtedly involves questions of fact.  Cecilio C. Hernandez, Ma, Victoria C. Hernandez-Sagun, Teresa C. Hernandez-Villa Abrille and Natividad Cruz-Hernandez vs. Jovita San Juan-Santos/Cecilio C. Hernandez, Ma. Victoria C. Hernandez-Sagun and Teresa C. Hernandez-Villa Abrille vs. Jovita San Juan-Santos, G.R. No. 166470/G.R. No. 169217, August 7, 2009.

Habeas corpus;  writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus extends to all cases of illegal confinement or detention or by which the rightful custody of person is withheld from the one entitled thereto. Respondent, as the judicial guardian of Lulu, was duty-bound to care for and protect her ward. For her to perform her obligation, respondent must have custody of Lulu. Thus, she was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus after she was unduly deprived of the custody of her ward.  Cecilio C. Hernandez, Ma, Victoria C. Hernandez-Sagun, Teresa C. Hernandez-Villa Abrille and Natividad Cruz-Hernandez vs. Jovita San Juan-Santos/Cecilio C. Hernandez, Ma. Victoria C. Hernandez-Sagun and Teresa C. Hernandez-Villa Abrille vs. Jovita San Juan-Santos, G.R. No. 166470/G.R. No. 169217, August 7, 2009.

Judgment;  annulment.  An action to annul a final judgment is an extraordinary remedy, which is not to be granted indiscriminately by the Court. It is a recourse equitable in character allowed only in exceptional cases. The reason for the restriction is to prevent this extraordinary action from being used by a losing party to make a complete farce of a duly promulgated decision that has long become final and executory. Under Section 2, Rule 47 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, the only grounds for annulment of judgment are extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction. Lack of jurisdiction as a ground for annulment of judgment refers to either lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defending party or over the subject matter of the claim.  Andrew B. Nudo vs. Hon. Amado S. Caguioa, et al., G.R. No. 176906, August 4, 2009.

Judgment; conflict. The general rule is that where there is a conflict between the fallo, or the dispositive part, and the body of the decision or order, the fallo prevails on the theory that the fallo is the final order and becomes the subject of execution, while the body of the decision merely contains the reasons or conclusions of the court ordering nothing. However, where one can clearly and unquestionably conclude from the body of the decision that there was a mistake in the dispositive portion, the body of the decision will prevail. Thus, in Spouses Rebuldea v. Intermediate Appellate Court, the Court held that the trial court did not gravely abuse its discretion when it corrected the dispositive portion of its decision to make it conform to the body of the decision, and to rectify the clerical errors which interchanged the mortgagors and the mortgagee.   Judelio Cobarrubias vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 160610, August 14, 2009.

Judgment; finality. A perusal of the Court of Appeals decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 55780, which ordered the dismissal of Civil Case No. 99-177, tells that the complaint therein was dismissed not on the ground of non-joinder of Belen as an indispensable party, but rather on the ground of laches. Indeed, what is clear from the said decision is that the dismissal of the case was due to Clarita’s unjustifiable neglect to timely initiate the prosecution of her claim in court — a conduct that warranted the presumption that she, although entitled to assert a right, had resolved to abandon or declined to assert the same.

While the Court agrees that an action to declare the nullity of contracts is not barred by the statute of limitations, the fact that Clarita was barred by laches from bringing such action at the first instance has already been settled by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 55780. At this point in the proceedings, the Court can no longer rule on the applicability of the principle of laches vis-à-vis the imprescriptibility of Clarita’s cause of action because the said decision is not the one on appeal before us. But more importantly, the Court takes notice that the decision rendered in that case had already become final without any motion for reconsideration being filed or an appeal being taken therefrom. Thus, we are left with no other recourse than to uphold the immutability of the said decision.

No other procedural law principle is indeed more settled than that once a judgment becomes final, it is no longer subject to change, revision, amendment or reversal, except only for correction of clerical errors, or the making of nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party, or where the judgment itself is void.[26] The underlying reason for the rule is two-fold: (1) to avoid delay in the administration of justice and thus make orderly the discharge of judicial business, and (2) to put judicial controversies to an end, at the risk of occasional errors, inasmuch as controversies cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely and the rights and obligations of every litigant must not hang in suspense for an indefinite period of time. Antonio Navarro  vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company/Clarita P. Navarro vs. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, G.R. No. 165697/G.R. No. 166481, August 4, 2009.

Judgment;  finality.  The trial court’s order of dismissal of petitioners’ complaint attained finality on September 2, 2005 following their failure to appeal it, which is a final, not an interlocutory order, within 15 days from August 18, 2005 when their counsel received a copy thereof.

Even if procedural rules were to be relaxed by allowing petitioners’ availment before the appellate court of Certiorari, instead of appeal, to assail the dismissal of their complaint, not only was the petition for Certiorari filed beyond the 60-day reglementary period. It glaringly failed to allege how the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the complaint. It merely posited that in dismissing the complaint, petitioners were deprived of the opportunity to present evidence to “prove the causes of action.” Such position does not lie, however, for petitioners’ complaint was dismissed precisely because after considering respondents’ Motion to Dismiss and petitioners’ 14-page “VEHEMENT OPPOSITION to the Motion to Dismiss” in which they proffered and exhaustively discussed the grounds for the denial of the Motion to Dismiss, the trial court dismissed the complaint on the ground of prescription.  The Heirs of the Late Fernando S. Falcasantos, etc., et al. vs. Spouses Fidel Yeo Tan and Sy Soc Tiu, et al., G.R. No. 172680, August 28, 2009.

Jurisdiction; acquisition. The Court enumerated the requisites of a valid substituted service: (1) service of summons within a reasonable time is impossible; (2) the person serving the summons exerted efforts to locate the defendant; (3) the person to whom the summons is served is of sufficient age and discretion; (4) the person to whom the summons is served resides at the defendant’s place of residence; and (5) pertinent facts showing the enumerated circumstances are stated in the return of service. In Sandoval, the Court held that “statutory restrictions for substituted service must be strictly, faithfully and fully observed.”

In the present case, there is no showing that personal service of summons within a reasonable time was impossible. On 17 September 2000, Sildo went to 230 Apo Street, Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City, to serve the summons. There, Dominador Galura told him that the Spouses Galura were presently residing at Tierra Pura Subdivision, Tandang Sora, Quezon City. Despite being told of the Spouses Galura’s correct address, Sildo still went to G.L. Calayan Agro System, Inc. in Barrio Kalayaan, Gerona, Tarlac to serve the summons, only to find out that the property had already been foreclosed and that the Spouses Galura no longer resided there. On 26 September 2000, Sildo went to Tierra Pura Subdivision, Tandang Sora, Quezon City, and, without any explanation, served the summons on Lapuz. Spouses Dante and Ma. Teresa Galura vs. Math-Agro Corporation,  G.R. No. 167230, August 14, 2009.

Jurisdiction;  estoppel.  The records show that the very first pleading filed by the Lu Ym father and sons before the court a quo was a motion to dismiss, albeit anchored on the ground of insufficiency of the certificate of non-forum shopping and failure of the plaintiffs to exert efforts towards a compromise. When the trial court denied this, they went up to the CA on certiorari, where they were sustained and the appellate court ordered the dismissal of the complaint below.

Next, the Lu Ym father and sons filed a motion for the lifting of the receivership order, which the trial court had issued in the interim. David, et al., brought the matter up to the CA even before the trial court could resolve the motion. Thereafter, David, et al., filed their Motion to Admit Complaint to Conform to the Interim Rules Governing Intra-Corporate Controversies. It was at this point that the Lu Ym father and sons raised the question of the amount of filing fees paid. They raised this point again in the CA when they appealed the trial court’s decision in the case below.

We find that, in the circumstances, the Lu Ym father and sons are not estopped from challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court. They raised the insufficiency of the docket fees before the trial court rendered judgment and continuously maintained their position even on appeal to the CA. Although the manner of challenge was erroneous – they should have addressed this issue directly to the trial court instead of to the OCA – they should not be deemed to have waived their right to assail the jurisdiction of the trial court.

The matter of lack of jurisdiction of the trial court is one that may be raised at any stage of the proceedings. More importantly, this Court may pass upon this issue motu proprio.  David Lu Vs. Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al./Paterno Lu Ym, Sr., et al. Vs. David Lu/ John Lu Ym and Ludo & Luym Development Corporation Vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals of Cebu City (former twentieth division), et al., G.R. No. 153690/G.R. No. 157381/G.R. No. 170889, August 4, 2009.

Jurisdiction; HLURB. In the cases that reached us, we have consistently ruled that the HLURB has exclusive jurisdiction over complaints arising from contracts between the subdivision developer and the lot buyer or those aimed at compelling the subdivision developer to comply with its contractual and statutory obligations to make the subdivision a better place to live in. The expansive grant of jurisdiction to the HLURB does not mean, however, that all cases involving subdivision lots automatically fall under its jurisdiction.

Pursuant to Roxas, we held in Pilar Development Corporation v. Villar and Suntay v. Gocolay that the HLURB has no jurisdiction over cases filed bysubdivision or condominium owners or developers against subdivision lot or condominium unit buyers or owners. The rationale behind this can be found in the wordings of Sec. 1, PD No. 1344, which expressly qualifies that the cases cognizable by the HLURB are those instituted by subdivision or condomium buyers or owners against the project developer or owner. This is also in keeping with the policy of the law, which is to curb unscrupulous practices in the real estate trade and business.

Thus, in the cases of Fajardo Jr. v. Freedom to Build, Inc., and Cadimas v. Carrion, we upheld the RTC’s jurisdiction even if the subject matter was a subdivision lot since it was the subdivision developer who filed the action against the buyer for violation of the contract to sell.

The only instance that HLURB may take cognizance of a case filed by the developer is when said case is instituted as a compulsory counterclaim to a pending case filed against it by the buyer or owner of a subdivision lot or condominium unit. This was what happened in Francel Realty Corporation v. Sycip, where the HLURB took cognizance of the developer’s claim against the buyer in order to forestall splitting of causes of action. Christian Assembly, Inc. vs. Sps. Avelino C. Ignacio and Priscilla R. Ignacio, G.R. No. 164789, August 27, 2009.

Jurisdiction; Ombudsman. We fully support the finding of the CA that grave abuse of discretion attended the Ombudsman’s decision. As discussed above, grave abuse of discretion is a circumstance beyond the legal error committed by a decision-making agency or entity in the exercise of its jurisdiction; this circumstance affects even the authority to render judgment. Grave abuse of discretion shares this effect with such grounds as the lack of substantial supporting evidence, and the failure to act in contemplation of law, among others.

In the absence of any authority to take cognizance of a case and to render a decision, any resulting decision is necessarily null and void. In turn, a null decision, by its very nature, cannot become final and can be impugned at any time. In the context of the Ombudsman operations, a void decision cannot trigger the application of Section 7, Rule III of the Ombudsman Rules.

We note that the Office of the Ombudsman duly noted in its decision that the CSC has primary jurisdiction over the issue of the reassignments’ validity, declaring that it “can hardly arrogate unto itself the task of resolving the said issue.” This is a correct reading of the law as the CSC is the central personnel agency of the government whose powers extend to all branches, subdivisions, instrumentalities, and agencies of the Government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters. Constitutionally, the CSC has the power and authority to administer and enforce the constitutional and statutory provisions on the merit system; promulgate policies, standards, and guidelines for the civil service; subject to certain exceptions, approve all appointments, whether original or promotional, to positions in the civil service; hear and decide administrative disciplinary cases instituted directly with it; and perform such other functions that properly belong to a central personnel agency. Pursuant to these powers, the CSC has the authority to determine the validity of the appointments and movements of civil service personnel.  Prudencio M. Reyes, Jr. vs. Simplicio C. Belisario and Emmanuel S. Malicdem, G.R. No. 154652, August 15, 2009.

Jurisdiction;  panel of arbitrators.  Nothing in Gonzales leads to the conclusion that in mining cases, ordinary courts can only resolve questions of validity of mining contracts or agreements; rather, Gonzales simply established that these questions are more properly resolved by courts of law, as these are essentially judicial questions requiring the application of laws. Nothing more was said beyond this; Gonzales certainly did not limit the courts’ authority to questions of validity of mining contracts or agreements. Olympic Mines and Development Corp., vs. Platinum Group Metals Corporation/Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation vs. Hon. Judge Bienvenido C. Blancaflor, in his capacity as the Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan, Br. 95, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and Platinum Group Metals Corporation/Platinum Group Metals Corporation vs. Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation, acting for its own interest and on behalf of Olympic Mines and Development Corporation/Platinum Group Metals Corporation vs. Court of Appeals and Polly C. Dy, G.R. No. 178188/G.R. No. 180674/G.R. No. 181141/G.R. No. 183527, August 15, 2009.

Jurisdiction; Secretary of Labor. The Secretary of Labor correctly assumed jurisdiction over the case as it does not come under the exception clause in Art. 128(b) of the Labor Code. While petitioner Jethro appealed the inspection results and there is a need to examine evidentiary matters to resolve the issues raised, the payrolls presented by it were considered in the ordinary course of inspection. While the employment records of the employees could not be expected to be found in Yakult’s premises in Calamba, as Jethro’s offices are in Quezon City, the records show that Jethro was given ample opportunity to present its payrolls and other pertinent documents during the hearings and to rectify the violations noted during the ocular inspection. It, however, failed to do so, more particularly to submit competent proof that it was giving its security guards the wages and benefits mandated by law.  Jethro Intelligence & Security Corporation and Yakult, Inc. vs. The Hon. Secretary of Labor and Employment, et al., G.R. No. 172537, August 14, 2009.

Jurisdiction; Sandiganbayan. A member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod under Salary Grade 26 who was charged with violation of The Auditing Code of the Philippines falls within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. People of the Philippines vs. Sandiganbayan (Third Division) and Victoria Amante, G.R. No. 167304, August 25, 2009.

Motion;  motion for reconsideration.  Under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, a motion for reconsideration of the judgment of conviction may be filed within 15 days from the promulgation of the judgment or from notice of the final order appealed from. Failure to file a motion for reconsideration within the reglementary period renders the subject decision final and executory.

Once a judgment attains finality, it becomes immutable and unalterable. It may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by this Court. Decisions that have long become final and executory cannot be annulled by courts, and the appellate court is deprived of jurisdiction to alter the trial court’s final judgment. This doctrine is founded on considerations of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional errors, judgments must become final at some point in time.  Erlinda Mapagay vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 178984, August 19, 2009.

Parties; criminal proceedings. Only the Solicitor General may bring or defend actions in behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, or represent the People or State in criminal proceedings before the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. However, jurisprudence lays down two exceptions where a private complainant or offended party in a criminal case may file a petition directly with this Court. The two exceptions are: (1) when there is denial of due process of law to the prosecution and the State or its agents refuse to act on the case to the prejudice of the State and the private offended party, and (2) when the private offended party questions the civil aspect of a decision of a lower court.  Heirs of Federico C. Delgado and Annalisa Pesico vs. Luisito Q. Gonzales and Antonio T. Buenaflor, G.R. No. 184337, August 7, 2009.

Parties; indispensable parties. Records show that Pedro Quilatan died intestate in 1960 and was survived by his three children, namely, Ciriaco, Francisco and Lorenzo, all of whom are now deceased. Ciriaco was survived by his children, namely Purita Santos, Rosita Reyes, Renato Quilatan, Danilo Quilatan, and Carlito Quilatan; Francisco was survived by herein petitioners and their two other siblings, Solita Trapsi and Rolando Quilatan; while Lorenzo was survived by his children, herein respondents.

In the complaint filed by petitioners before the trial court, they failed to implead their two siblings, Solita and Rolando, and all the heirs of Ciriaco, as co-plaintiffs or as defendants. It is clear that the central thrust of the complaint filed in Civil Case No. 67367 was to revert the subject properties back to the estate of Pedro Quilatan, thereby making all his heirs pro indiviso co-owners thereof, and to partition them equally among themselves; and that all the co-heirs and persons having an interest in the subject properties are indispensable parties to an action for partition, which will not lie without the joinder of said parties.  Ely Quilatan & Rosvida Quilatan-Elias vs. Heirs of Lorenzo Quilatan, et al., G.R. No. 183059, August 28, 2009.

Parties;  non-substitution of heirs.  Non-substitution of the heirs of a deceased party is not jurisdictional. The rule on substitution by heirs is not a matter of jurisdiction, but a requirement of due process. It was designed to ensure that the deceased party would continue to be properly represented in the suit through his heirs or the duly appointed legal representative of his estate. It is only when there is a denial of due process, as when the deceased is not represented by any legal representative or heir, that the court nullifies the trial proceedings and the resulting judgment therein. Andrew B. Nudo vs. Hon. Amado S. Caguioa, et al., G.R. No. 176906, August 4, 2009.

Pleading;  amendment. The courts should be liberal in allowing amendments to pleadings to avoid a multiplicity of suits and in order that the real controversies between the parties are presented, their rights determined, and the case decided on the merits without unnecessary delay. This liberality is greatest in the early stages of a lawsuit, especially in this case where the amendment was made before the trial of the case, thereby giving the petitioners all the time allowed by law to answer and to prepare for trial.

Furthermore, amendments to pleadings are generally favored and should be liberally allowed in furtherance of justice in order that every case, may so far as possible, be determined on its real facts and in order to speed up the trial of the case or prevent the circuity of action and unnecessary expense. That is, unless there are circumstances such as inexcusable delay or the taking of the adverse party by surprise or the like, which might justify a refusal of permission to amend.

In the present case, there was no fraudulent intent on the part of PBCOM in submitting the altered surety agreement. In fact, the bank admitted that it was a mistake on their part to have submitted it in the first place instead of the original agreement. It also admitted that, through inadvertence, the copy that was attached to the complaint was the copy wherein the words “IN HIS PERSONAL CAPACITY” were inserted to conform to the bank’s standard practice. This alteration was made without the knowledge of the notary public. PBCOM’s counsel had no idea that what it submitted was the altered document, thereby necessitating the substitution of the surety agreement with the original thereof, in order that the case would be judiciously resolved. Henry Ching Tiu, et al. vs. Philippine Bank of Communications, G.R. No. 151932. August 19, 2009

Pleadings;  signature.  Obviously, the rule allows the pleadings to be signed by either the party to the case or the counsel representing that party. In this case, ASBT, as petitioner, opted to sign its petition and its motion for reconsideration in its own behalf, through its corporate president, Mildred R. Santos, who was duly authorized by ASBT’s Board of Directors to represent the company in prosecuting this case. Therefore, the said pleadings cannot be considered unsigned and without any legal effect. Sameer Overseas Placement Agency, Inc. vs. Mildred R. Santos, etc. et al., G.R. No. 152579, August 4, 2009.

Preliminary attachment; preference. Our decisions in Ruiz v. Court of Appeals and Valdevieso v. Damalerio oblige us to rule that the duly registered levy on attachment by petitioner Rural Bank takes preference over the prior but then unregistered sale of respondent Manila Mission. There was likewise no evidence of knowledge on the part of petitioner Rural Bank of any third-party interest in the subject property at the time of the attachment. We are, therefore, constrained to grant the instant Petition for Review and nullify the Orders of the RTC discharging the subject property from attachment.  Rural Bank of Sta. Barbara (Pangasinan), Inc. vs. The Manila Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Inc., G.R. No. 130223, August 19, 2009.

Preliminary attachment;  grounds. Mere failure to pay its debt is, of and by itself, not enough to justify an attachment of the debtor’s properties. A fraudulent intention not to pay (or not to comply with the obligation) must be present.  Foundation Specialist, Inc. vs. Betonval Ready Concrete, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 170674, August 24, 2009.

Preliminary attachment; remedy. Petitioner argues that, pursuant to the aforequoted section, the remedy of a third person claiming to be the owner of an attached property are limited to the following: (1) filing with the Sheriff a third-party claim, in the form of an affidavit, per the first paragraph of Section 14; (2) intervening in the main action, with prior leave of court, per the second paragraph of Section 14, which allows a third person to vindicate his/her claim to the attached property in the “same x x x action”; and (3) filing a separate and independent action, per the second paragraph of Section 14, which allows a third person to vindicate his/her claim to the attached property in a “separate action.”

Respondent explains that it tried to pursue the first remedy, i.e., filing a third-party claim with the Sheriff. Respondent did file an Affidavit of Title and Ownership with the Sheriff, but said officer advised respondent to file a motion directly with the RTC in the main case. Respondent heeded the Sheriff’s advice by filing with the RTC, in Civil Case No. D-10583, a Motion to Release Property from Attachment. The Court of Appeals recognized and allowed said Motion, construing the same as an invocation by respondent of the power of control and supervision of the RTC over its officers, which includes the Sheriff. We agree with the Court of Appeals on this score. Rural Bank of Sta. Barbara (Pangasinan), Inc. vs. The Manila Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Inc., G.R. No. 130223, August 19, 2009.

Preliminary injunction;  requisites.  Before an injunctive writ is issued, it is essential that the following requisites are present: (1) the existence of a right to be protected and (2) the acts against which the injunction is directed are violative of the right. The onus probandi is on the movant to show that the invasion of the right sought to be protected is material and substantial, that the right of the movant is clear and unmistakable, and that there is an urgent and paramount necessity for the writ to prevent serious damage.

San Miguel claims that the requisites for the valid issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction were clearly established. The clear and unmistakable right to the exclusive use of the mark “Ginebra” was proven through the continuous use of “Ginebra” in the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of gin products throughout the Philippines since 1834. To the gin-drinking public, the word “Ginebra” does not simply indicate a kind of beverage; it is now synonymous with San Miguel’s gin products.

We hold that the CA committed a reversible error. The issue in the main case is San Miguel’s right to the exclusive use of the mark “Ginebra.” The two trademarks “Ginebra San Miguel” and “Ginebra Kapitan” apparently differ when taken as a whole, but according to San Miguel, Tanduay appropriates the word “Ginebra” which is a dominant feature of San Miguel’s mark. We find that San Miguel’s right to injunctive relief has not been clearly and unmistakably demonstrated. The right to the exclusive use of the word “Ginebra” has yet to be determined in the main case. The trial court’s grant of the writ of preliminary injunction in favor of San Miguel, despite the lack of a clear and unmistakable right on its part, constitutes grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.  Tanduay Distillers, Inc.  vs. Ginebra San Miguel, Inc.G.R. No. 164324, August 14, 2009.

Rule 42;  CTA.  The taxpayer must file a Petition for Review with the CTA within 30 days from receipt of said adverse decision or ruling of the RTC.

It is also true that the same provisions are silent as to whether such 30-day period can be extended or not. However, Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9282 does state that the Petition for Review shall be filed with the CTA following the procedure analogous to Rule 42 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 1, Rule 42[16] of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the Petition for Review of an adverse judgment or final order of the RTC must be filed with the Court of Appeals within: (1) the original 15-day period from receipt of the judgment or final order to be appealed; (2) an extended period of 15 days from the lapse of the original period; and (3) only for the most compelling reasons, another extended period not to exceed 15 days from the lapse of the first extended period.

Following by analogy Section 1, Rule 42 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure, the 30-day original period for filing a Petition for Review with the CTA under Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9282, as implemented by Section 3(a), Rule 8 of the Revised Rules of the CTA, may be extended for a period of 15 days. No further extension shall be allowed thereafter, except only for the most compelling reasons, in which case the extended period shall not exceed 15 days.  The City of Manila, Liberty M. Toledo in her capacity as the Treasurer of Manila, et al. vs. Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 181845, August 4, 2009.

Rule 45;  questions of law. As a general rule, a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is limited to questions of law. However, this rule admits of exceptions, such as in this case where the findings of the Labor Arbiter vary from the findings of the NLRC and the Court of Appeals. Lowe, Inc., et al. vs. Court of Appeals and Irma Mutuc, G.R. Nos. 164813 & G.R. No. 174590, August 14, 2009.

Rule 45;  questions of law. We review in this Rule 45 petition the decision of the CA on a Rule 65 petition filed by Montoya with that court. In a Rule 45 review, we consider the correctness of the assailed CA decision, in contrast with the review for jurisdictional error that we undertake under Rule 65. Furthermore, Rule 45 limits us to the review of questions of law raised against the assailed CA decision. In ruling for legal correctness, we have to view the CA decision in the same context that the petition for certiorari it ruled upon was presented to it; we have to examine the CA decision from the prism of whether it correctly determined the presence or absence of grave abuse of discretion in the NLRC decision before it, not on the basis of whether the NLRC decision on the merits of the case was correct. In other words, we have to be keenly aware that the CA undertook a Rule 65 review, not a review on appeal, of the NLRC decision challenged before it.  Rufino C. Montoya vs. Transmed Manila Corporation/Mr. Edilberto Ellena and Great Lake Navigation Co., Ltd., G.R. No. 183329, August 27, 2009

Rule 65;  function. The special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 is intended to correct errors of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The writ of certiorari is directed against a tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions that acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. Grave abuse of discretion means such capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment which is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. To justify the issuance of the writ of certiorari, the abuse of discretion must be grave, as when the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and it must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined, or to act at all, in contemplation of law, as to be equivalent to having acted without jurisdiction.  Julie’s Franchise Corporation, et al. vs. Hon. Chandler O. Ruiz, in his capacity as Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 10, Dipolog City, et al., G.R. No. 180988, August 28, 2009.

Rule 65;  function. The sole office of a writ of certiorari is the correction of errors of jurisdiction including the commission of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. It does not include the correction of a tribunal’s evaluation of the evidence and factual findings thereon, especially since factual findings of administrative agencies are generally held to be binding and final so long as they are supported by substantial evidence in the record of the case.  Jethro Intelligence & Security Corporation and Yakult, Inc. vs. The Hon. Secretary of Labor and Employment, et al., G.R. No. 172537, August 14, 2009.

Rule 65;  requisites. For a petition for certiorari to prosper, the essential requisites that have to concur are: (1) the writ is directed against a tribunal, a board or any officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions; (2) such tribunal, board or officer has acted without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction; and (3) there is no appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

The phrase without jurisdiction means that the court acted with absolute lack of authority or want of legal power, right or authority to hear and determine a cause or causes, considered either in general or with reference to a particular matter. It means lack of power to exercise authority. Excess of jurisdiction occurs when the court transcends its power or acts without any statutory authority; or results when an act, though within the general power of a tribunal, board or officer (to do) is not authorized, and is invalid with respect to the particular proceeding, because the conditions which alone authorize the exercise of the general power in respect of it are wanting. Grave abuse of discretion implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as to be equivalent to lack or excess of jurisdiction; simply put, power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion, prejudice, or personal hostility; and such exercise is so patent or so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal either to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.

The present case failed to comply with the above-stated requisites. In the instant case, the soundness of the RTC’s Order allowing the substitution of the document involves a matter of judgment and discretion, which cannot be the proper subject of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65. This rule is only intended to correct defects of jurisdiction and not to correct errors of procedure or matters in the trial court’s findings or conclusions.  Henry Ching Tiu, et al. vs. Philippine Bank of Communications, G.R. No. 151932, August 19, 2009.

Rule 65;  substitute for appeal. A special civil action for certiorari is not a substitute for a lost or lapsed remedy of appeal. We have often enough reminded members of the bench and bar that a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure lies only when there is no appeal or plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Certiorari is not allowed when a party to a case fails to appeal a judgment or final order despite the availability of that remedy. The remedies of appeal and certiorari are mutually exclusive and not alternative or successive. In this case, petitioner utterly failed to provide any justification for her resort to a special civil action for certiorari, when the remedy of appeal by petition for review was clearly available. Pagayanan R. Hadji-Sirad vs.. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 182267, August 28, 2009.

Rules of procedure;  relaxation of rules.  The Court ruled on several occasions that the right to appeal is neither a natural right nor a part of due process. It is merely a statutory privilege and may be exercised only in the manner and strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law. The party who seeks to appeal must comply with the requirements of the rules. Failure to do so results in the loss of that right. The perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period permitted by law is not only mandatory, but also jurisdictional.

Nonetheless, it bears stressing that the rules of procedure are merely tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice. They were conceived and promulgated to effectively aid the court in the dispensation of justice. Courts are not slaves to or robots of technical rules, shorn of judicial discretion. In rendering justice, courts have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that on the balance, technicalities take a backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around. Thus, if the application of the Rules would tend to frustrate rather than promote justice, it is always within the power of the Court to suspend the rules, or except a particular case from its operation. Spouses Obdulia H. Espejo and Hildelberto T. Espejo vs. Geraldine Coloma Ito, G.R. No. 176511, August 4, 2009.

Rules of procedure; relaxation of rules. We have invariably pronounced that the bare invocation of “the interest of substantial justice” is not a magic wand that will automatically compel this Court to suspend procedural rules. Rules of Procedure are tools designed to promote efficiency and orderliness, as well as to facilitate the attainment of justice, such that strict adherence thereto is required. Procedural rules are not to be belittled or dismissed, simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party’s substantive rights. Like all rules, they are required to be followed except only for the most persuasive reasons, when they may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with the degree of his thoughtlessness in not complying with the procedure prescribed. Rules of Procedure, especially those prescribing the time within which certain acts must be done, are absolutely indispensable to the prevention of needless delays and to the orderly and speedy discharge of justice. We have held that the rules may be relaxed only in “exceptionally meritorious cases.”

In the instant case, we find no persuasive or exceptionally meritorious reasons to justify the relaxation of the rules. The circumstances obtaining in the instant case show that petitioner was accorded opportunity to settle her liability to private complainant and to present her case during the proceedings. As earlier recounted, the MTC, upon motion of petitioner, provisionally dismissed the case on the basis of an amicable settlement between her and private complainant. However, the case was revived, because petitioner failed to comply with the settlement. Petitioner was given several opportunities during the trial to present evidence in her defense. Nonetheless, despite being duly notified and subpoenaed, she did not appear during the trial proper and promulgation of judgment.  Erlinda Mapagay vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 178984, August 19, 2009.

Rules of procedure; relaxation. Rules of procedure are tools designed to promote efficiency and orderliness as well as to facilitate attainment of justice, such that strict adherence thereto is required. However, technical rules of procedure are not designed to frustrate the ends of justice. The Court is fully aware that procedural rules are not to be belittled or simply disregarded, for these prescribed procedures insure an orderly and speedy administration of justice. However, it is equally true that litigation is not merely a game of technicalities. Law and jurisprudence grant to courts the prerogative to relax compliance with procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to put an end to litigation speedily and the parties’ right to an opportunity to be heard.

This is not to say that adherence to the Rules could be dispensed with. However, exigencies and situations might occasionally demand flexibility in their application. In not a few instances, the Court relaxed the rigid application of the rules of procedure to afford the parties the opportunity to fully ventilate their cases on the merit. This is in line with the time-honored principle that cases should be decided only after giving all parties the chance to argue their causes and defenses. Technicality and procedural imperfection should, thus, not serve as basis of decisions. In that way, the ends of justice would be better served. For, indeed, the general objective of procedure is to facilitate the application of justice to the rival claims of contending parties, bearing always in mind that procedure is not to hinder but to promote the administration of justice.

In Sanchez v. Court of Appeals, the Court restated the reasons that may provide justification for a court to suspend a strict adherence to procedural rules, such as: (a) matters of life, liberty, honor or property; (b) the existence of special or compelling circumstances; (c) the merits of the case; (d) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules; (e) a lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory; and (f) the other party will not be unjustly prejudiced thereby.  Pagayanan R. Hadji-Sirad vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 182267, August 28, 2009.

Rules of procedure; relaxation of rules. The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for failure of petitioner to comply with the resolution directing him to implead the People of the Philippines as respondent . The Court of Appeals held that the petition was prosecuted manifestly for delay, which is a ground for dismissal under Section 8, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

However, Section 6, Rule 1 of the Rules of Court also provides that rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding. Thus, in several cases, the Court has ruled against the dismissal of petitions or appeals based solely on technicalities especially when there was subsequent substantial compliance with the formal requirements.

In this case, the Court finds the petitioner’s failure to implead the People of the Philippines as respondent not so grave as to warrant dismissal of the petition. After all, petitioner rectified his error by moving for reconsideration and filing an Amended Petition, impleading the People of the Philippines as respondent. Judelio Cobarrubias vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 160610, August 14, 2009.

Rules pf procedure; relaxation of rules. A one-day delay in the perfection of the appeal was excused in Gana v. NLRC, Surigao del Norte Electric Cooperative v. NLRC, City Fair Corporation v. NLRC, Pacific Asia Overseas Shipping Corp. v. NLRC, and Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. v. NLRC.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that since no intent to delay the administration of justice could be attributed to Guinmapang, a one day delay does not justify the appeal’s denial. More importantly, the Court of Appeals declared that Guinmapang’s appeal, on its face, appears to be impressed with merit. The constitutional mandate to accord full protection to labor and to safeguard the employee’s means of livelihood should be given proper attention and sanction. A greater injustice may occur if said appeal is not given due course than if the reglementary period to appeal were strictly followed. In this case, we are inclined to excuse the one day delay in order to fully settle the merits of the case. This is in line with our policy to encourage full adjudication of the merits of an appeal.  Republic Cement Corporation vs. Peter Guinmapang, G.R. No. 168910, August 24, 2009.

Settlement of estate;  letters testamentary. A reading of Supreme Court Circular 2-90, in relation to Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1948, clearly shows that the subject matter of therein petition, that is, the propriety of granting letters testamentary to respondents, do not fall within any ground which can be the subject of a direct appeal to this Court. The CA was thus correct in declaring that the “issues raised by petitioner do not fall within the purview of Section 17 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 such that the Supreme Court should take cognizance of the instant case. Petitioner cannot deny that the determination of whether or not respondents should be disqualified to act as executors is a question of fact. Hence, the proper remedy was to appeal to the CA, not to this Court. Republic of the Philippines vs. Ferdinand R. Marcos II and Imelda R. MarcosG.R. No. 130371/G.R. No. 130855, August 4, 2009.

Search; plain view. Under the plain view doctrine, objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be presented as evidence. The plain view doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (1) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (2) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; and (3) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure.

In this case, the police authorities were in the area because that was where they caught up with petitioner after the chase. They saw the firearms inside the vehicle when petitioner opened the door. Since a shooting incident just took place and it was reported that petitioner was involved in the incident, it was apparent to the police officers that the firearms may be evidence of a crime. Hence, they were justified in seizing the firearms.  Judge Felimon Abelita, III vs. P/Supt. German Doria and SPO3 Cesar Ramirez, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009.

Summary judgment;  propriety. Summary or accelerated judgment is proper only when, based on the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, and after hearing, it is shown that save as to the amount of damages, there is no veritable issue regarding any material fact in the action and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Conversely, where the pleadings tender an issue, that is, an issue of fact the resolution of which calls for a presentation of evidence, as distinguished from an issue which is sham or contrived, summary judgment is not proper.  D.M. Consunji, Inc. vs. Duvaz CorporationG.R. No. 155174, August 4, 2009.

Criminal Law

Aggravating circumstances;  abuse of superior strength. Abuse of superior strength is present whenever there is a notorious inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressor/s that is plainly and obviously advantageous to the aggressor/s and purposely selected or taken advantage of to facilitate the commission of the crime. Evidence must show that the assailants consciously sought the advantage, or that they had the deliberate intent to use this advantage.

To take advantage of superior strength means to purposely use force excessively out of proportion to the means of defense available to the person attacked. The appreciation of this aggravating circumstance depends on the age, size and strength of the parties.

In the present case, the prosecution failed to present evidence to show a relative disparity in age, size, strength, or force, except for the showing that two assailants, one of them armed with a knife, attacked the victim. The presence of two assailants, one of them armed with a knife, is not per se indicative of abuse of superior strength. Mere superiority in numbers does not indicate the presence of this circumstance. Nor can the circumstance be inferred solely from the victim’s possibly weaker physical constitution. In fact, what the evidence shows in this case is a victim who is taller than the assailants and who was even able to deliver retaliatory fist blows against the knife-wielder. Ramie Valenzuela vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 149988, August 14, 2009.

Aggravating circumstance;  abuse of superior strength.  The aggravating circumstance of superior strength should be appreciated against the accused-appellants. Abuse of superior strength is present whenever there is inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressor, considering that a situation of superiority of strength is notoriously advantageous for the aggressor and is selected or taken advantage of by him in the commission of the crime. This circumstance was alleged in the Information and was proved during the trial. In the case at bar, the victim certainly could not defend himself in any way. The accused-appellants, armed with a deadly weapon, immobilized the victim and stabbed him successively using the same deadly weapon.  People of the Philippines vs. Arnold Garchitorena Y Camba a.k.a. Junior, Joey Pamplona a.k.a. Nato, and Jessie Garcia y Adorino,  G.R. No. 175605, August 28, 2009.

Aggravating;  circumstance; treachery. That treachery attended the stabbing cannot be gainsaid. The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by the aggressor on an unsuspecting victim, depriving him of any real chance to defend himself Even when the victim was forewarned of the danger to his person, treachery may still be appreciated since what is decisive is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victim to defend himself or to retaliate.

In the present case, even assuming that the victim was forewarned of the danger because he was, immediately before the stabbing, engaged in an argument with appellant, he was not in a position to defend himself as his hands were held by appellant’s companion.  People of the Philippines vs. Rachel Angeles y Naval Alias Russel Angeles y Cabal, G.R. No. 177134, August 14, 2009.

Aggravating circumstance;  treachery. This Court also agrees with the trial court in appreciating treachery as a qualifying circumstance. As we have consistently ruled, there is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof, which tend directly and specially to ensure its execution without risk to himself arising from the defense that the offended party might make. Two conditions must concur for treachery to exist, namely: (a) the employment of means of execution gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and (b) the means or method of execution was deliberately and consciously adopted.

In the case at bar, the attack on the victim was deliberate, sudden and unexpected. Appellants, surreptitiously and without warning, fired at the victims who were at that time unarmed and completely unaware of any impending danger to their lives. They had no opportunity to offer any defense at all against the surprise attack by appellants and their co-accused with armalite and carbine rifles. All these indicate that appellants employed means and methods that tended directly and specially to ensure the execution of the offense without risk to themselves arising from the defense that the victims might make. Thus, treachery was correctly appreciated as a circumstance to qualify the crime to murder.  People of the Philippines vs. Ismael Mokammad, et al.G.R. No. 180594. August 19, 2009

Aggravating circumstance;  treachery.  Indubitably, the killing of the victim was attended by treachery. Treachery exists when the offender commits a crime against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend, directly and specifically, to ensure its execution, without risk to himself arising from any defense or retaliatory act which the victim might make. Here, appellant tied Costan while the latter was lying down before he and Lumbayan stabbed the latter to death; thus, ensuring the execution of the crime without risk to themselves. Obviously, Costan could not flee for his life or retaliate. This aggravating circumstance qualifies the crime to murder.  People of the Philippines vs. Samuel Anod, G.R. No. 186420, August 25, 2009.

Conspiracy. Conspiracy was shown because accused-appellants were together in performing the concerted acts in pursuit of their common objective. Garcia grabbed the victim’s hands and twisted his arms; in turn, Pamplona, together with Garchitorena, strangled him and straddled him on the ground, then stabbed him. The victim was trying to free himself from them, but they were too strong. All means through which the victim could escape were blocked by them until he fell to the ground and expired. The three accused-appellants’ prior act of waiting for the victim outside affirms the existence of conspiracy, for it speaks of a common design and purpose.

Where there is conspiracy, as here, evidence as to who among the accused rendered the fatal blow is not necessary. All conspirators are liable as co-principals regardless of the intent and the character of their participation, because the act of one is the act of all.  People of the Philippines vs. Arnold Garchitorena Y Camba a.k.a. Junior, Joey Pamplona a.k.a. Nato, and Jessie Garcia y Adorino,  G.R. No. 175605, August 28, 2009.

Criminal liability;  death. During the pendency of the present appeal, the Court received on June 19, 2009 a communication from the Bureau of Corrections informing that appellant died on April 1, 2009 at the National Bilibid Prisons Hospital in Muntinlupa City.

In view of appellant’s death, the dismissal of the cases under review, Criminal Case Nos. 6886-G and 6888-G is in order. The dismissal by reason of appellant’s death has the force and effect of an acquittal, the constitutionally mandated presumption of innocence in his favor not having been overcome by a final finding of guilt. His civil liability ex delicto is accordingly extinguished. People of the Philippines vs. Pedro Calangi alias Haplas, G.R. No. 179280, August 27, 2009.

Criminal liability;  exemption. As to the criminal liability, Raymund is exempt. As correctly ruled by the Court of Appeals, Raymund, who was only 14 years of age at the time he committed the crime, should be exempt from criminal liability and should be released to the custody of his parents or guardian pursuant to Sections 6 and 20 of Republic Act No. 9344.  Raymund Madali and Rodel Madali vs. People of the Philippines  G.R. No. 180380. August 4, 2009

Criminal liability;  felony. Article 4(1) of the Revised Penal Code states that criminal liability shall be incurred “by any person committing a felony (delito) although the wrongful act done be different from that which he intended.” The essential requisites for the application of this provision are: (a) the intended act is felonious; (b) the resulting act is likewise a felony; and (c) the unintended albeit graver wrong was primarily caused by the actor’s wrongful acts.
In this case, petitioner was committing a felony when he boxed the victim and hit him with a bottle. Hence, the fact that Chy was previously afflicted with a heart ailment does not alter petitioner’s liability for his death. Amado Alvarado Garcia vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 171951, August 28, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act;  chain of custody.   Crucial in proving chain of custody is the marking of the seized drugs or other related items immediately after they are seized from the accused. Marking after seizure is the starting point in the custodial link, thus it is vital that the seized contraband are immediately marked because succeeding handlers of the specimens will use the markings as reference. The marking of the evidence serves to separate the marked evidence from the corpus of all other similar or related evidence from the time they are seized from the accused until they are disposed of at the end of criminal proceedings, obviating switching, “planting,” or contamination of evidence.

Long before Congress passed RA 9165, this Court has consistently held that failure of the authorities to immediately mark the seized drugs raises reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the corpus delicti and suffices to rebut the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties, the doctrinal fallback of every drug-related prosecution. Thus, in People v. Laxa and People v. Casimiro, we held that the failure to mark the drugs immediately after they were seized from the accused casts doubt on the prosecution evidence, warranting acquittal on reasonable doubt. These rulings are refinements of our holdings in People v. Mapa and People v. Dismuke that doubts on the authenticity of the drug specimen occasioned by the prosecution’s failure to prove that the evidence submitted for chemical analysis is the same as the one seized from the accused suffice to warrant acquittal on reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines vs. Marian Coroche y Caber, G.R. No. 182528, August 14, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act;  elements.  The evidence for the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt the elements necessary to successfully prosecute a case for illegal possession of a prohibited drug, namely, (a) the accused-appellants were in possession of an item or an object identified to be a prohibited or a regulated drug, (b) such possession was not authorized by law, and (c) the accused-appellants freely and consciously possessed said drug. People of the Philippines Vs. Randy Magbanua alias “Boyung” and Wilson Magbanua, G.R. No. 170137, August 27, 2009.

Dangerous Drug Act;  evidence. A successful prosecution for the sale of illegal drugs requires more than the perfunctory presentation of evidence establishing each element of the crime: the identities of the buyer and seller, the transaction or sale of the illegal drug and the existence of the corpus delicti.In securing or sustaining a conviction under RA No. 9165, the intrinsic worth of these pieces of evidence, especially the identity and integrity of the corpus delicti, must definitely be shown to have been preserved. This requirement necessarily arises from the illegal drug’s unique characteristic that renders it indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise. Thus, to remove any doubt or uncertainty on the identity and integrity of the seized drug, evidence must definitely show that the illegal drug presented in court is the same illegal drug actually recovered from the accused-appellant; otherwise, the prosecution for possession or for drug pushing under RA No. 9165 fails.  People of the Philippines vs. Edgar Denoman y Acurda; G.R. No. 171732, August 15, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act;  penalties. The accused was charged with two crimes, which, although arising from the same transaction, are distinct crimes under RA 6425, as amended by RA 7659. Therefore, the accused must be meted separate penalties for each of the offenses. Accordingly, the penalty to be imposed should be two counts of reclusion perpetua, the appropriate penalty for the offenses. People of the Philippines vs. Clemencia Arguelles y Talacay, G.R. No. 186381, August 19, 2009.

Defense; alibi.  This Court has ruled in various cases that denial is inherently a weak defense as it is negative and self-serving. Corollarily, alibi is the weakest of all defenses for it is easy to contrive and difficult to prove. For alibi to prosper, it is not enough for the accused to prove that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed. He must likewise prove that it was physically impossible for him to be present at the crime scene or its immediate vicinity at the time of its commission. However, in this case, appellant was not able to prove that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the place of the crime at the time the latter took place. Appellant and his witnesses testified that Barangay Mansilay, the place where appellant claimed to have been at the time the crime took place is more or less nine (9) kilometers away from Barangay Bukal, the place where the incident occurred. According to them, the travel time from Barangay Bukal to Barangay Mansilay can be approximated to 1-2 hours by walking and 30 minutes by using a tricycle. Such a short distance is not demonstrative of the physical impossibility for the appellant to be at the place of commission of the crime as contemplated by this Court’s past decisions. For alibi to prosper, it is not enough for the appellant to prove that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed; he must, likewise, demonstrate that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime at the time.  People of the Philippines vs. Elegio AnG.R. No. 169870, August 4, 2009.

Defense; alibi.  For alibi to prosper, two elements must concur: (a) the accused was in another place at the time the crime was committed; and (b) it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. In the case under consideration, Raymund was within a 5-kilometer distance from the scene, while Rodel was within a 14-kilometer distance. Even assuming arguendo that Raymund and Rodel’s defense were true, still, it was not physically impossible for them to be at the crime scene and to be participants in the gruesome crime. It was not difficult for them to travel from where they allegedly were and arrive at the scene during the killing episode.  Raymund Madali and Rodel Madali vs. People of the Philippines  G.R. No. 180380. August 4, 2009; see People of  the Philippines vs. Jesus Paragas Cruz, G.R. No. 186129, August 4, 2009.

Defense; alibi.  We agree with the courts below that the alibi resorted to by appellants is worthless in the face of the positive identification by the victims. The surviving victims were found not to have any reason to falsely testify against appellants. Admittedly, the surviving victims had no grudge against appellants. It is unnatural for victims interested in vindicating a crime to accuse somebody other than the real culprits. Human nature tells us that the aggrieved parties would want the real culprits punished, and not accept a mere scapegoat to take the rap for the real malefactors.

Likewise, for alibi to prosper, an accused must prove not only that he was at some other place at the time of the commission of the crime, but also that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus delicti or within its immediate vicinity. Apart from testifying that they were in their respective houses in the morning of August 3, 1996, appellants were unable to show that it was physically impossible for them to be at the scene of the crime. Their respective houses were only an hour’s drive away from the scene of the crime. We, therefore, sustain the RTC and the CA in ruling that no physical impossibility existed for appellants to have been at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission.  People of the Philippines  vs. Ismael Mokammad, et al.G.R. No. 180594. August 19, 2009

Defense; alibi.  For the defense of alibi to prosper, the following must be established: (a) the presence of the accused-appellant in another place at the time of the commission of the offense; and (b) the physical impossibility for him to be at the scene of the crime. Bienvenido testified that he was in the same barangay when the incident took place. This testimony destroys his alibi. Assuming arguendo that Bienvenido was in Barangay Poctoy, a neighboring barangay, when the questioned event took place, still there is a great possibility that he could have traveled from there to the locus criminis in no time. Thus, his defense of alibi cannot prosper. People of the Philippines vs. Bienvenido Lazaro @ Bening, G.R. No. 186379, August 19, 2009.

Exempting circumstances;  uncontrollable fear. Under Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code, a person is exempt from criminal liability if he acts under the compulsion of an irresistible force, or under the impulse of an uncontrollable fear of equal or greater injury, because such person does not act with freedom. However, we held that for such a defense to prosper, the duress, force, fear, or intimidation must be present, imminent and impending, and of such nature as to induce a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm if the act be done. A threat of future injury is not enough. In this case, as correctly held by the CA, based on the evidence on record, appellant had the chance to escape Lumbayan’s threat or engage Lumbayan in combat, as appellant was also holding a knife at the time. Thus, appellant’s allegation of fear or duress is untenable. We have held that in order for the circumstance of uncontrollable fear may apply, it is necessary that the compulsion be of such a character as to leave no opportunity for escape or self-defense in equal combat. Therefore, under the circumstances, appellant’s alleged fear, arising from the threat of Lumbayan, would not suffice to exempt him from incurring criminal liability. People of the Philippines vs. Samuel Anod, G.R. No. 186420, August 25, 2009.

Flight. Appellants’ flight is further evidence of their guilt. It is well-established that the flight of an accused is competent evidence to indicate his guilt; and flight, when unexplained, is a circumstance from which an inference of guilt may be drawn.  People of the Philippines Vs. Ismael Diaz @ Maeng and Rodolfo Diaz @ Nanding, G.R .No. 185841, August 4, 2009.

Motive.  The Court has consistently adhered to the principle that proof of motive is not indispensable for a conviction, particularly where the accused is positively identified by an eyewitness, and his participation is adequately established. Motive assumes true significance only when there is no showing of who the perpetrator of a crime might have been. In this case, not only were the appellants positively identified as the killers, it was shown that they had a motive to kill the victims. As shown by the evidence, appellants Ismael Diaz and Rodolfo Diaz are the son and cousin, respectively, of the late Pablo Diaz, the political opponent of Consolacion Quinto, who is the mother of Councilor Quinto. Councilor Quinto is suspected of having masterminded the killing of Pablo Diaz. People of the Philippines Vs. Ismael Diaz @ Maeng and Rodolfo Diaz @ Nanding, G.R .No. 185841, August 4, 2009.

Rape; impotency. As a defense, impotence is both a physical and medical question that should be satisfactorily established with the aid of an expert and competent testimony.  Impotency as a defense in rape cases must likewise be proved with certainty to overcome the presumption in favor of potency.[15] While Cruz was indeed diagnosed as suffering from erectile dysfunction, this does not preclude the possibility of his having sexual intercourse with AAA. As the CA observed accurately, AAA was raped in 1998 while the medical examination of Cruz was conducted in 2001. A good three years had already lapsed since AAA had been sexually abused. The diagnosis on Cruz in 2001 is, therefore, useless to disprove his sexual potency at the time of the rape incident. It merely corroborates his assertion that he is currently sexually impotent, and not that he has been so since 1995. Cruz was not able to adduce hard evidence to demonstrate his impotency prior to or on June 6, 1998 when the crime of rape was committed. Moreover, assuming arguendo that he was indeed impotent since 1995, it does not discount the possibility that his erection was cured by drugs like Viagra or Ciales. There was simply no proof of his alleged impotency on June 6, 1998 when the beastly act of rape was committed against AAA.  People of the Philippines vs. Jesus Paragas Cruz G.R. No. 186129, August 4, 2009.

Rape; penalty. Simple rape is punished under Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code by the single indivisible penalty of reclusion perpetua. Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code mandates that the death penalty shall be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following aggravating/qualifying circumstances:  (1) When the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, stepparent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim.  People of the Philippines vs. Edwin Mejia, G.R .No. 185723, August 4, 2009.

Legal/Judicial Ethics

Bias.  Equally tenuous is complainant’s contention that the CA’s finding of grave abuse of discretion of the part of respondent Judge proves the latter’s bias and partiality. A finding of grave abuse of discretion does not necessarily prove that respondent Judge displayed a preference for one of the party-litigants. As aptly observed by the Investigating Justice, the reversal of a judge’s order by a superior court in a certiorari case is, in itself, not a ground for an administrative action against the judge. Respondent Judge, by granting the petition for relief in Civil Case No. B-1016 on the ground that complainant failed to disclose a verbal agreement between her family and defendants therein, may have committed an error of judgment. However, in the absence of bad faith, such erroneous judgment cannot be a ground for disciplinary action.  Adelpha E. Malabed vs. Judge Enrique C. Asis, RTC, Br. 16, Naval Biliran, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2031, August 4, 2009.

Dishonesty.  The making of untruthful statements in the PDS amounts to dishonesty and falsification of an official document. Dishonesty, being in the nature of a grave offense, carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in the government service.

Respondent, a judge, knows (or should have known) fully well that the making of a false statement in his PDS could subject him to dismissal. This Court will not allow him to evade the consequences of his dishonesty. Being a former public prosecutor and a judge now, it is his duty to ensure that all the laws and rules of the land are followed to the letter. His being a judge makes it all the more unacceptable. There was an obvious lack of integrity, the most fundamental qualification of a member of the judiciary.  Olga M. Samson vs. Judge Virgilio G. Caballero,  A.M. No. RTJ-08-2138, August 5, 2009.

Dishonesty. It was established that the OCC logbook indicated the time as reflected in respondent’s DTR but his actual time of arrival at the RTC-San Fernando was actually later than the time as reflected in the DTR. The discrepancy was explained by the fact that, as respondent himself admitted, he punched in at the RTC-Guagua which is not his official work station.

OCA Circular No. 7-2003 is clear and states that court personnel should indicate in their bundy cards the “truthful and accurate times” of their arrival at, and departure from, the office. That office is the official work station of the court personnel. In the present case, respondent’s official work station is RTC-San Fernando and not RTC-Guagua. Respondent’s punching in at RTC-Guagua was a clear violation of OCA Circular No. 7-2003. As we have ruled in Garcia v. Bada andServino v. Adolfo, court employees must follow the clear mandate of OCA Circular No. 7-2003.

Section 4, Rule XVII (on Government Office Hours) of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 and Other Pertinent Civil Service Laws also provides that falsification or irregularities in the keeping of time records will render the guilty officer or employee administratively liable.[3] Falsification of time records constitutes dishonesty, which is a grave offense punishable by dismissal from the service. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Lyndon L. Isip, Sheriff IV, RTC, OCC, City of San Fernando, Pampanga, A.M. No. P-07-2390, August 19, 2009.

Failure to pay debt.  Indeed, when Sermonia backtracked on her promise to pay her debt, such act already constituted a ground for administrative sanction, for any act that would be a bane to the public trust and confidence reposed in the judiciary shall not be countenanced. Sermonia’s unethical conduct has diminished the honor and integrity of her office, stained the image of the judiciary and caused unnecessary interference, directly or indirectly, in the efficient and effective performance of her functions. Certainly, to preserve decency within the judiciary, court personnel must comply with just contractual obligations, act fairly and adhere to high ethical standards. Like all other court personnel, Sermonia is expected to be a paragon of uprightness, fairness and honesty not only in all her official conduct but also in her personal actuations, including business and commercial transactions, so as to avoid becoming her court’s albatross of infamy.

The gravamen of Sermonia’s offense is her unwillingness to pay a just obligation. The penalty imposed by the law is not directed at Sermonia’s private life, but at her actuation unbecoming a public official. Teopicio Tan vs. Salvacion D. Sermonia, Clerk IV, MTCC, Iloilo City, A.M. No. P-08-2436, August 4, 2009. see also Wilson B. Tan vs. Jesus F. Hernando, A.M. No. P-08-2501, August 28, 2009.

Grave abuse of authority. Respondents became administratively liable for grave abuse of authority when they forcibly levied and took away properties belonging to a third person and, thereafter, appropriated the levied property for themselves. Respondents’ grave abuse of authority amounted to gross misconduct, which under the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule IV, Section 52 A (3) thereof, is a grave offense punishable by dismissal even for the first offense.  Hector P. Teodosio Vs. Rolando R. Somosa, et al.. A.M. No. P-09-2610, August 13, 2009.

Grave abuse of authority. Sheriff who caused the demolition of petitioners’ properties without an order for the purpose in the court of implementing a writ of execution commits grave abuse of authority.  Simeon Guariño, et al. vs. Cesar F. Ragsac, et al., A.M. No. P-08-2571, August 27, 2009.

Immorality. The evidence presented is enough to hold respondent guilty of the charge of immorality or disgraceful and immoral conduct. It is elementary that administrative proceedings are governed by the substantial evidence rule. Substantial evidence is such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied when there is reasonable ground to believe that the person indicted was responsible for the alleged wrongdoing or misconduct.

The acts imputed against respondent, a married man, consist of his cohabitation with a woman other than his legal wife and there is a strong likelihood that respondent fathered a child with the said woman. It is morally reprehensible for a married man or woman to maintain intimate relations with a person other than his or her spouse. Moreover, immorality is not based alone on illicit sexual intercourse. It is not confined to sexual matters, but includes conducts inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.  Lolita S. Regir vs. Joel Regir, A.M. No. P-06-2282, August 7, 2009.

Misbehavior. Courts are looked upon by the people with high respect. Misbehavior by judges and employees necessarily diminishes their dignity. Any fighting or misunderstanding is a disgraceful occurrence reflecting adversely on the good image of the Judiciary. By fighting within the court premises, respondent judges failed to observe the proper decorum expected of members of the Judiciary. More detestable is the fact that their squabble arose out of a mere allowance coming from the local government. Judge Rizalina T. Capco-Umali, RTC, Br. 212, Mandaluyong City vs. Judge Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante, RTC, Br. 211, Mandaluyong City/Judge Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante, RTC, Br. 211, Mandaluyong City vs. Judge Rizalina T. Capco-Umali, RTC, Br. 212, Mandaluyong CityA.M. No. RTJ-08-2124/A.M. No. FTJ-08-2125, August 27, 2009.

Misconduct. The evidence on record clearly establishes that the first petition filed by Mendoza for extrajudicial foreclosure against mortgagor David Joson was stamped received and docketed as Foreclosure No. F0184.[10] The corresponding filing fees and cost of publication were paid. The Notice to Parties of Sheriff’s Public Auction Sale[11] and the Notice of Extrajudicial Foreclosure with Auction Sale of Real Property under Act No. 3135, as amended, were likewise issued by Tablizo. Thus, when Tablizo cancelled the auction sale for no reason and without the knowledge and consent of the Executive Judge, he did so in clear violation of his ministerial duties as Ex-Officio Sheriff in applications for extrajudicial foreclosure under the Administrative Order.

As to the second petition for extrajudicial foreclosure filed by Mendoza against mortgagor spouses Ricardo and Adelina Abrasaldo which was allegedly refused outright by Tablizo, the evidence on record shows that the said petition[12] was marked with the receiving stamp of the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Virac, Catanduanes. The same petition also bears the mark “F-0193” at the upper right-hand corner of the first page. The mark appears to denote that the petition, docketed as Foreclosure No. F0193, is an Extrajudicial Foreclosure Sale under Act No. 3135, as amended. It raises valid suspicion, however, why the receiving stamp was left blank despite the docket number written on the petition. This unexplained act on the part of Tablizo shows another violation of his ministerial duties as Ex-Officio Sheriff in applications for extrajudicial foreclosure under Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 1984. We have reminded sheriffs time and again that, as court employees, they must conduct themselves with propriety and decorum so that their actions must be above suspicion at all times.  Leo Mendoza vs. Prospero V. Tablizo, A.M. No. P-08-2553, August 28, 2009.

Negligence. As gleaned from the cited case and from the Return of Service of Summons of Process Server Eduardo R. Rabena and his explanation, respondent is liable for simple neglect or dereliction of duty.

A process server’s primary duty is to serve court notices. This requires utmost dedication on his part to ensure that all notices assigned to him are duly served on the parties.

Considering the grave responsibilities imposed on him, Eduardo R. Rabena, despite his explanation that he had performed his duty with utmost good faith, proved to be careless and imprudent in discharging his duties. Neither neglect nor delay should be allowed to stall the expeditious disposition of cases. As such, he is indeed guilty of simple neglect of duty, which is the failure of an employee to give proper attention to a required task. Simple neglect of duty signifies “disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference.”  Judge Alma Crispina B. Collado-Lacorte vs. Eduardo Rabena, A.M. No. P-09-2665, August 4, 2009.


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