April 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law

Here are selected April 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on remedial law:

Civil Procedure

Actions; action for injunction.  As a rule, actions for injunction and damages lie within the jurisdiction of the RTC pursuant to Section 19 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 (BP 129), otherwise known as the “Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980,” as amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 7691.  An action for injunction is a suit which has for its purpose the enjoinment of the defendant, perpetually or for a particular time, from the commission or continuance of a specific act, or his compulsion to continue performance of a particular act.  It has an independent existence, and is distinct from the ancillary remedy of preliminary injunction which cannot exist except only as a part or an incident of an independent action or proceeding.  In an action for injunction, the auxiliary remedy of preliminary injunction, prohibitory or mandatory, may issue.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; argument raised for first time on appeal.  Petitioner had, of course, endeavored to establish that respondent’s predecessors-in-interest had served him a demand to vacate the subject parcel as early as 31 July 1996.  Correctly brushed aside by the Court of Appeals on the ground, among others, that respondent had no participation in its preparation, we find said demand letter of little or no use to petitioner’s cause in view of its non-presentation before the MeTC.  However, much as it may now be expedient for petitioner to anchor his cause thereon, said demand letter was first introduced in the record only as an attachment to his reply to respondent’s comment to the motion for reconsideration of the 14 July 2005 order issued by the RTC.  The rule is settled, however, that points of law, theories, issues and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court will not be and ought not to be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.  Basic consideration of due process impels this rule.  Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Appeal; computation of period where last day is Sunday or legal holiday.  Petitioner’s petition for review (under Rule 42) and motion for reconsideration before the appellate court were filed well within the reglementary period for the filing thereof.  It must be noted that petitioner received her copy of the RTC decision on April 13, 2007. Following the Rules of Court, she had 15 days or until April 28, 2007 to file her petition for review before the CA. Section 1 of Rule 42 provides:

Sec. 1. How appeal taken; time for filing.—A party desiring to appeal from a decision of the Regional Trial Court rendered in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction may file a verified petition for review with the Court of Appeals, paying at the same time to the clerk of said court the corresponding docket and other lawful fees, depositing the amount of P500.00 for costs, and furnishing the Regional Trial Court and the adverse party with a copy of the petition. The petition shall be filed and served within fifteen (15) days from notice of the decision sought to be reviewed or of the denial of petitioner’s motion for new trial or reconsideration filed in due time after judgment. Upon proper motion and the payment of the full amount of the docket and other lawful fees and the deposit for costs before the expiration of the reglementary period, the Court of Appeals may grant an additional period of fifteen (15) days only within which to file the petition for review. No further extension shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case to exceed fifteen (15) days.

On April 20, 2007, petitioner filed before the CA, via registered mail, her motion for extension of time to file the petition for review. She pleaded in her motion that she be granted an additional 15 days, counted from the expiry of the reglementary period. Petitioner likewise attached to her motion postal money orders representing the docket fees.

Fifteen days from April 28, 2007 would be May 13, 2007. This was, however, a Sunday. May 14, 2007, the following day, was a legal holiday—the holding of the national and local elections. Section 1 of Rule 22 states:

Sec. 1. How to compute time.—In computing any period of time prescribed or allowed by these Rules, or by order of the court, or by any applicable statute, the day of the act or event from which the designated period of time begins to run is to be excluded and the date of performance included. If the last day of the period, as thus computed, falls on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday in the place where the court sits, the time shall not run until the next working day.

Therefore, when petitioner filed her petition for review with the appellate court on May 15, 2007, the same was well within the extended period for the filing thereof. Alma B. Russel vs. Teofista Ebasan, et al., G.R. No. 184542, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; dismissal of appeal for technical defects in service and form of brief.  We agree that the CA had the discretion to dismiss petitioners’ appeal.  The discretion, however, must be a sound one, to be exercised in accordance with the tenets of justice and fair play, having in mind the circumstances obtaining in each case. Here, we find that the failure to serve a copy of the appellant’s brief to two of the adverse parties was a mere oversight, constituting excusable neglect.  A litigant’s failure to furnish his opponent with a copy of his appeal brief does not suffice to warrant dismissal of that appeal.  In such an instance, all that is needed is for the court to order the litigant to furnish his opponent with a copy of his brief.  Anent the failure to append a copy of the assailed judgment, instead of dismissing the appeal on that basis, it is more in keeping with equity to simply require the appellants to immediately submit a copy of the Decision of the lower court rather than punish litigants for the reckless inattention of their lawyers.  The purpose of a subject index in an appellant’s/appellee’s brief obviates the court to thumb through a possibly lengthy brief page after page to locate whatever else needs to be found and considered, such as arguments and citations.  In the case at bar, notably, the appeal brief submitted to the CA consists only of 17 pages which the appellate court may easily peruse to apprise it of what the case is all about and of the relief sought.  Thus, the belated submission of the subject index may be considered excusable.  Our discussion in Philippine Coconut Authority v. Corona International, Inc. is apropos:

x x x the purpose of the brief is to present the court in coherent and concise form the point and questions in controversy, and by fair argument on the facts and law of the case, to assist the court in arriving at a just and proper conclusion. A haphazard and pellmell presentation will not do for the brief should be so prepared as to minimize the labor of the court in examination of the record upon which the appeal is heard and determined. It is certainly, ‘the vehicle of counsel to convey to the court the essential facts of his client’s case, a statement of the questions of law involved, the law he should have applied, and the application he desires of it by the court’. There should be an honest compliance with the requirements regarding contents of appellant’s brief, and among which is that it should contain “a subject index of the matter in the brief with a digest of the argument and page references.”

We do not disagree with the appellate court’s above exposition. The requirements laid down in Section 13, Rule 43 are intended to aid the appellate court in arriving at a just and proper conclusion of the case. However, we are of the opinion that despite its deficiencies petitioner’s appellant’s brief is sufficient in form and substance as to apprise the appellate court of the essential facts and nature of the case as well as the issues raised and the laws necessary for the disposition of the same.

This case involves voluminous records meriting a review on the merits by the CA.  Otherwise, the efforts of the petitioners to protect their collateral in their judicial battle will lead to naught once they lose their remedy of an appeal just because of procedural niceties.  Adherence to legal technicalities allows individual error to be suffered in order that justice in the maximum may be preserved.  Nonetheless, “we should indeed welcome,” as Judge Learned Hand once wrote, “any efforts that help disentangle us from the archaisms that still impede our pursuit of truth”.  Our ruling in Aguam v. Court of Appeals also bears recalling:

Every party litigant must be afforded the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause, free from the unacceptable plea of technicalities. Thus, dismissal of appeals purely on technical grounds is frowned upon where the policy of the court is to encourage hearings of appeals on their merits and the rules of procedure ought not to be applied in a very rigid, technical sense; rules of procedure are used only to help secure, not override substantial justice. It is a far better and more prudent course of action for the court to excuse a technical lapse and afford the parties a review of the case on appeal to attain the ends of justice rather than dispose of the case on technicality and cause a grave injustice to the parties, giving a false impression of speedy disposal of cases while actually resulting in more delay, if not a miscarriage of justice.

Trinidad Go, et al. vs. Vicente Velez Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 182341, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; findings of fact of lower courts.  However, a question involving the regularity of notarization as well as the due execution of the subject sworn statement of Basilisa would require an inquiry into the appreciation of evidence by the trial court.  It is not the function of this Court to review, examine and evaluate or weigh the probative value of the evidence presented. A question of fact would arise in such event. Settled is the rule that questions of fact cannot be raised in an appeal via certiorari before the Supreme Court and are not proper for its consideration.  The rationale behind this doctrine is that a review of the findings of fact of the trial courts and the appellate tribunal is not a function this Court normally undertakes.  The Court will not weigh the evidence all over again unless there is a showing that the findings of the lower courts are totally devoid of support or are clearly erroneous so as to constitute serious abuse of discretion.  Although there are recognized exceptions to this rule, none exists in the present case to justify a departure therefrom.  Alejandra S. Lazaro, et al. vs. Modesta Agustin, et al., G.R. No. 152364, April 15, 2010.

Appeal; findings of fact of lower courts generally binding on Supreme Court; exceptions.  It is a well-recognized principle that factual findings of the trial court are entitled to great weight and respect by this Court, more so when they are affirmed by the appellate court. However, the rule is not without exceptions, such as: (1) when the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculations, surmises, and conjectures; (2) the inferences made are manifestly mistaken; (3) there is grave abuse of discretion; and (4) the judgment is based on misapprehension of facts or premised on the absence of evidence on record.  Especially in criminal cases where the accused stands to lose his liberty by virtue of his conviction, the Court must be satisfied that the factual findings and conclusions of the lower courts leading to his conviction must satisfy the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.  Anthony L. Ng vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 173905, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; findings of fact of trial court.  The issue of whether or not the accused acted in self-defense is undoubtedly a question of fact, and it is well entrenched in jurisprudence that findings of fact of the trial court command great weight and respect unless patent inconsistencies are ignored or where the conclusions reached are clearly unsupported by evidence.  In the present case, we find no cogent reason to disturb the decision of the trial court, as modified by the CA.  In debunking his claim, we quote with approval the ruling of the CA.

In the instant case, accused-appellant claims that there was unlawful aggression on the part Robelyn Rojas when the latter allegedly hit him with a spray gun.  However, except this self-serving statement, no other evidence was presented to prove that indeed he was hit by Robelyn.  Accused-appellant failed to show where he was hit and what injuries he sustained, if any.  Moreover, his own defense witness Roden Macasantos did not see him being hit by a spray gun.  On the contrary, the prosecution has clearly shown that before Robelyn was stabbed, the two even discussed with each other and accused-appellant even shook hands with him.  Moreover, if indeed it was true that Robelyn was carrying a spray gun and tried to hit him, accused-appellant, while he was in a supine position, could have easily just flaunted his knife to scare his alleged attackers away. On the other hand, even if we assume to be true that he was in a supine position when he thrust the knife at his attacker, it is however impossible that the back of Robelyn would be hit, unless the latter could also fell (sic) on his back, which is again far from reality.  In a myriad of cases, it has been ruled that the location, number or seriousness of the stab or hack wounds inflicted on the victim are important indicia which may disprove accused’s plea of self defense.  In the instant case, it is clear that the victim was stabbed at the back negating any indication that accused-appellant acted in self defense.

The People of the Philippines vs. Benancio Mortera y Belarmino, G.R. No. 188104, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; hierarchy of courts.  The first refers to the petitioners’ breach of the hierarchy of courts by coming directly to the Court to appeal the assailed issuances of the RTC via petition for review on certiorari. They should not have done so, bypassing a review by the Court of Appeals (CA), because the hierarchy of courts is  essential to the efficient functioning of the courts and to the orderly administration of justice. Their non-observance of the hierarchy of courts has forthwith enlarged the docket of the Court by one more case, which, though it may not seem burdensome to the layman, is one case too much to the Court, which has to devote time and effort in poring over the papers submitted herein, only to discover in the end that a review should have first been made by the CA. The time and effort could have been dedicated to other cases of importance and impact on the lives and rights of others.  The hierarchy of courts is not to be lightly regarded by litigants. The CA stands between the RTC and the Court, and its establishment has been precisely to take over much of the work that used to be done by the Court.  Historically, the CA has been of the greatest help to the Court in synthesizing the facts, issues, and rulings in an orderly and intelligible manner and in identifying errors that ordinarily might escape detection. The Court has thus been freed to better discharge its constitutional duties and perform its most important work, which, in the words of Dean Vicente G. Sinco, “is less concerned with the decision of cases that begin and end with the transient rights and obligations of particular individuals but is more intertwined with the direction of national policies, momentous economic and social problems, the delimitation of governmental authority and its impact upon fundamental rights.”  The need to elevate the matter first to the CA is also underscored by the reality that determining whether the petitioners were real parties in interest entitled to bring this appeal against the denial by the RTC of the OSG’s motion for the issuance of a writ of execution was a mixed question of fact and law. As such, the CA was in the better position to review and to determine.  In that regard, the petitioners violate Section 1, Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, which demands that an appeal by petition for review on certiorari be limited to questions of law.  Francisco Alonso, et al. vs. Cebu Country Club, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 188471, April 20, 2010.

Appeal; issue raised for first time on appeal.  In its petition for review with the CA, petitioners never put as an issue the alleged existence of a consummated sale between the DAR and the petitioners under RA 6657. What petitioners questioned was SAC’s jurisdiction over determination of just compensation cases involving lands covered by RA 6657. Furthermore, petitioners insist that LBP has no legal personality to institute a case for determination of just compensation against landowners with the SAC. It is only in the present petition for review that petitioners raised the alleged existence of a consummated sale between the DAR and petitioners.

The argument that a consummated sale between the DAR and petitioners existed upon petitioners’ acceptance of the valuation made in the RARAD’s decision of 29 March 2000 is an issue being raised for the first time. Section 15, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Court provides that the appellant “may include in his assignment of errors any question of law or fact that has been raised in the court below and which is within the issues framed by the parties.”  A perusal of the questions raised in the SAC and the CA shows that the issue on the existence of a consummated sale between the DAR and petitioners was not among the issues therein. Hence, this issue is being raised for the first time on appeal.  It is a fundamental rule that this Court will not resolve issues that were not properly brought and ventilated in the lower courts. Questions raised on appeal must be within the issues framed by the parties and, consequently, issues not raised in the trial court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.  An issue, which was neither averred in the complaint nor raised during the trial in the lower courts, cannot be raised for the first time on appeal because it would be offensive to the basic rule of fair play and justice, and would be violative of the constitutional right to due process of the other party.  Heirs of Lorenzo Vidad and Carmen Vidad, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010.

Appeal; issue raised for first time on appeal; question of fact outside scope of Rule 45 appeal.  We note at the outset that the objection on the delineation of the scope and extent of the excess areas of TCT No. 722 came too late in the day; it is an issue that the Hacienda admits to have raised for the first time when it sought reconsideration of the CA decision.   We significantly note, too, that this issue involves a question of fact whose determination is improper in a Rule 45 proceeding before this Court.  Hacienda Bigaa, Inc. vs. Epifanio V. Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 174160, April 20, 2010.

Appeal; notice of appeal; computation of period to file.  As regards the ruling of the Court of Appeals that the appeal of PCI Leasing was filed out of time, the same was in concurrence with the findings of the RTC that the Notice of Appeal was filed one day late.  On this matter, we hold that the conclusion of the RTC that PCI Leasing belatedly filed its appeal was correct, but the premise therefor was evidently mistaken.  In accordance with Section 3, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, an ordinary appeal of a judgment by the RTC shall be taken within fifteen (15) days from notice of the judgment or final order appealed from.  Said period shall be interrupted by a timely motion for new trial or reconsideration.  In Neypes v. Court of Appeals, the Court had the occasion to clarify the rule regarding the period within which an appeal may be taken should a motion for new trial or reconsideration be filed.  Thus:

To standardize the appeal periods provided in the Rules and to afford litigants fair opportunity to appeal their cases, the Court deems it practical to allow a fresh period of 15 days within which to file the notice of appeal in the Regional Trial Court, counted from receipt of the order dismissing a motion for a new trial or motion for reconsideration.

Henceforth, this “fresh period rule” shall also apply to Rule 40 governing appeals from the Municipal Trial Courts to the Regional Trial Courts; Rule 42 on petitions for review from the Regional Trial Courts to the Court of Appeals; Rule 43 on appeals from quasi-judicial agencies to the Court of Appeals and Rule 45 governing appeals by certiorari to the Supreme Court.  The new rule aims to regiment or make the appeal period uniform, to be counted from receipt of the order denying the motion for new trial, motion for reconsideration (whether full or partial) or any final order or resolution.

x x x x

To recapitulate, a party litigant may either file his notice of appeal within 15 days from receipt of the Regional Trial Court’s decision or file it within 15 days from receipt of the order (the “final order”) denying his motion for new trial or motion for reconsideration.  Obviously, the new 15-day period may be availed of only if either motion is filed; otherwise, the decision becomes final and executory after the lapse of the original appeal period provided in Rule 41, Section 3. (Emphases ours.)

In the case at bar, PCI Leasing filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the RTC Order dated October 13, 2000, which dismissed Civil Case No. Q-00-40010.  On January 4, 2001, the RTC rendered a Resolution, denying the Motion for Reconsideration.  Said Resolution was received by PCI Leasing on January 17, 2001.  Therefore, PCI Leasing should have filed its Notice of Appeal within 15 days from January 17, 2001 or until February 1, 2001.  PCI Leasing actually filed its Notice of Appeal on May 11, 2001 or 114 days after receipt of the Resolution denying its Motion for Reconsideration.

Contrary to the findings of the RTC, the period within which to file the Notice of Appeal should not be reckoned from May 3, 2001, the date of receipt of the RTC Resolution dated April 6, 2001, which denied the Ex Parte Motion for Reconsideration of PCI Leasing.  The aforesaid Ex Parte Motion for Reconsideration was already the second attempt on the part of PCI Leasing to seek a reconsideration of the RTC Order dated October 13, 2000, dismissing Civil Case No. Q-00-40010.  It is, thus, in the nature of a second motion for reconsideration.  Under Section 5, Rule 37 of the Rules of Court, such motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading, which does not toll the period within which an appeal may be taken, to wit:

SEC. 5. Second motion for new trial. – A motion for new trial shall include all grounds then available and those not so included shall be deemed waived. A second motion for new trial, based on a ground not existing nor available when the first motion was made, may be filed within the time herein provided excluding the time during which the first motion had been pending.

No party shall be allowed a second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final order.  (Emphasis ours.)

As PCI Leasing was not able to file the Notice of Appeal within the reglementary period allowed therefor, the RTC Order dated October 13, 2000, dismissing Civil Case No. Q-00-40010, should be deemed final and executory.  PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. vs. Antonio C. Milan, et al., G.R. No. 151215, April 5, 2010.

Appeal; notice of appeal; requirements.  The Court of Appeals concluded that the Notice of Appeal involved pure questions of law on the basis of the statement therein that the Order dated October 13, 2000, the Resolution dated January 4, 2001 and the Resolution dated April 6, 2001 of the RTC would be appealed to the Court of Appeals on the ground that the same were “contrary to the applicable laws and jurisprudence on the matter.”  The Court of Appeals was of the opinion that it would not have jurisdiction over the intended appeal since the same should be raised to the Supreme Court via a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

We hold that the Court of Appeals was unreasonably hasty in inferring its lack of jurisdiction over the intended appeal of PCI Leasing.  The above-stated conclusion of the Court of Appeals was simply uncalled for, notwithstanding the said statement in the Notice of Appeal.  Under Rule 41, Section 5 of the Rules of Court, a notice of appeal is only required to indicate (a) the parties to the appeal, (b) the final judgment or order or part thereof appealed from, (c) the court to which the appeal is being taken, and (d) the material dates showing the timeliness of the appeal. In usual court practice, a notice of appeal would consist of one or two pages.  Only after the specific issues and arguments of PCI Leasing are laid out in detail before the Court of Appeals in the appropriate substantive pleading can it make a conclusion as to whether or not the issues raised therein involved pure questions of law.  PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. vs. Antonio C. Milan, et al., G.R. No. 151215, April 5, 2010.

Appeal; requirement to attach pleadings filed below; substantial compliance.  We dwell first with the procedural issues before the main controversy. Respondents contend that the instant petition is dismissible on the ground that NHA failed to attach pleadings filed in the RTC and the Court of Appeals as required under Section 4, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court which partly provides:

SEC. 4. Contents of petition. — The petition shall be filed in eighteen (18) copies, with the original copy intended for the court being indicated as such by the petitioner, and shall x x x (d) be accompanied by a clearly legible duplicate original, or a certified true copy of the judgment or final order or resolution certified by the clerk of court of the court a quo and the requisite number of plain copies thereof, and such material portions of the record as would support the petition; x x x.

In its petition, NHA attached the February 24, 2000 Decision, the November 27, 2000 Amended Decision, and the July 19, 2001 Resolution all of the Court of Appeals; copies of the transfer certificates of title of the disputed properties; and the June 13, 1994 Order of the Quezon City RTC ordering the reconstitution of the said titles.  This Court finds that NHA substantially complied with the requirements under Section 4 of Rule 45.  The same conclusion was arrived at by this Court in Development Bank of the Philippines v. Family Foods Manufacturing Co., Ltd. when it was faced with the same procedural objection, thus:

As held by this Court in Air Philippines Corporation v. Zamora:

[E]ven if a document is relevant and pertinent to the petition, it need not be appended if it is shown that the contents thereof can also [be] found in another document already attached to the petition. Thus, if the material allegations in a position paper are summarized in a questioned judgment, it will suffice that only a certified true copy of the judgment is attached.

Third, a petition lacking an essential pleading or part of the case record may still be given due course or reinstated (if earlier dismissed) upon showing that petitioner later submitted the documents required, or that it will serve the higher interest of justice that the case be decided on the merits.

Nevertheless, even if the pleadings and other supporting documents were not attached to the petition, the dismissal is unwarranted because the CA records containing the promissory notes and the real estate and chattel mortgages were elevated to this Court. Without a doubt, we have sufficient basis to actually and completely dispose of the case.

We must stress that cases should be determined on the merits, after all parties have been given full opportunity to ventilate their causes and defenses, rather than on technicalities or procedural imperfections. In that way, the ends of justice would be served better. Rules of procedure are mere tools designed to expedite the decision or resolution of cases and other matters pending in court. A strict and rigid application of rules, resulting in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, must be avoided. In fact, Section 6 of Rule 1 states that the Rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of ensuring the just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.

National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Certiorari; available where denial of motion to dismiss is with grave abuse of discretion. Anent respondents’ claim that the RTC Order denying a motion to dismiss is a mere interlocutory order, thus, not appealable and may not be a subject of a petition for certiorari filed by the petitioner before the CA, the same is also not meritorious.  While indeed, the general rule is that the denial of a motion to dismiss cannot be questioned in a special civil action for certiorari, which is not intended to correct every controversial interlocutory ruling, and that the appropriate recourse is to file an answer and to interpose as defenses the objections raised in the motion, to proceed to trial, and, in case of an adverse decision, to elevate the entire case by appeal in due course, this rule is not absolute.  Even when appeal is available and is the proper remedy, the Supreme Court has allowed a writ of certiorari (1) where the appeal does not constitute a speedy and adequate remedy; (2) where the orders were also issued either in excess of or without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion; (3) for certain special considerations, as public welfare or public policy; (4) where in criminal actions, the court rejects rebuttal evidence for the prosecution as, in case of acquittal, there could be no remedy; (5) where the order is a patent nullity; and (6) where the decision in the certiorari case will avoid future litigations.  In this case, we find that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction when it failed to consider the lack of proof of authority of respondent Neri to file the action on behalf of the corporation as we have discussed above.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Coalbrine International Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 161838, April 7, 2010.

Certiorari; grave abuse of discretion.  Finally, we note that the instant petition was filed under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, which requires the existence of grave abuse of discretion. Grave abuse of discretion exists where an act of a court or tribunal is performed with a capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.  No such grave abuse of discretion exists in this case to warrant issuance of the extraordinary writ of certiorari.  Mediserv, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals (Special Former 13th Division), et al., G.R. No. 161368, April 5, 2010.

Certiorari; nature of remedy; available to correct only errors of jurisdiction.  The petitioners have twice erroneously availed of the remedy of a certiorari petition, first, before the CA against the RTC order dismissing its complaint for annulment of title, and second, before the Court against the CA’s decision thereon.  Time and again, we have discussed the nature of a certiorari petition – it is intended to correct only errors of jurisdiction where the court or tribunal has acted with grave abuse of discretion. A writ of certiorari cannot be used for any other purpose; it cannot be used to resolve questions or issues beyond its competence such as errors of judgment.  Certiorari will not be issued to cure errors by the trial court in its appreciation of the evidence of the parties, its conclusions anchored on the said findings, and its conclusions of law.

The supervisory jurisdiction of a court over the issuance of a writ of certiorari cannot be exercised for the purpose of reviewing the intrinsic correctness of a judgment of the lower court on the basis either of the law or the facts of the case, or of the wisdom or legal soundness of the decision. Even if the findings of the court are incorrect, as long as it has jurisdiction over the case, such correction is normally beyond the province of certiorariWhere the error is not one of jurisdiction, but of an error of law or fact – a mistake of judgment – appeal is the remedy. [Emphasis supplied.]

In the two certiorari petitions the petitioners filed before the CA and before the Court, they assailed rulings of the lower courts by claiming that the findings and conclusions of these courts were merely speculative and based on misapprehension of facts.  These assigned errors, however, constitute an attack on the correctness or soundness of the decision assailed and does not at all affect the jurisdiction of the court to issue such decision.  In other words, they amount to no more than errors of judgment correctible by an appeal, not by a writ of certiorari that will issue only when there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

As the petitioners now raise before this Court the same errors of judgment already raised before and resolved by the CA, the dismissal of the present certiorari petition is in order for being the wrong remedy.  Errors of judgment committed by the CA are reviewable by this Court via a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.  Erroneous findings and conclusion do not render the appellate court vulnerable to the corrective writ of certiorari.  Nemesio Goco, et al. vs. Honorable Court of Appeals, et al.,  G.R. No. 157449, April 6, 2010.

Certiorari; not available against dismissal order from which appeal can be taken.  Since an order of dismissal by the trial court is a final order from which an ordinary appeal under Rule 41 can be taken, the petitioners should have taken this avenue against the RTC order of September 7, 1999 instead of resorting to a petition for certiorari before the CA.  Supreme Court Circular No. 2-90 is unequivocal in directing the dismissal of an inappropriate mode of appeal:

4. Erroneous Appeals – An appeal taken to either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals by the wrong or inappropriate mode shall be dismissed.

But rather than dismissing outright the petition, the CA, “in the interest of justice,” decided to treat it as an appeal filed under Rule 41 and consider the errors raised by the petitioners.  As it turned out, however, the CA still ruled for the petition’s dismissal because it found that petitioners’ did not have any cause of action against respondent Catlys and were not the real parties in interest.  Nemesio Goco, et al. vs. Honorable Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 157449, April 6, 2010.

Certiorari; unavailing where appeal period has lapsed; exceptions.  Petitioners are questioning a final decision of the CA by resorting to Rule 65, when their remedy should be based on Rule 45.  This case would normally have been dismissed outright for failure of the petitioners to adopt the proper remedy.  While ordinarily, certiorari is unavailing where the appeal period has lapsed, there are exceptions.  Among them are (a) when public welfare and the advancement of public policy dictates; (b) when the broader interest of justice so requires; (c) when the writs issued are null and void; or (d) when the questioned order amounts to an oppressive exercise of judicial authority.  In the present case, the CA’s act of dismissing petitioners’ petition for certiorari and in finding the RTC’s Decision already final and executory in its entirety, despite the filing by the petitioners of a Notice of Appeal within 15 days from their receipt of the February 7, 2001 RTC Order amending the said RTC Decision is an oppressive exercise of judicial authority.  Hence, in the interest of substantial justice, we deem it wise to overlook the procedural technicalities.  Associated Anglo-American Tobacco Corporation, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 167237, April 23, 2010.

Contempt.  Respondents filed a case for indirect contempt against Augusto L. Canlas, Atty. Francisco A. Abella, Jr., and Atty. Rizal V. Katalbas, Jr. for allegedly defying the TRO issued by the RTC in connection with the complaint for injunction and damages previously filed by respondents.  Contempt constitutes disobedience to the court by setting up an opposition to its authority, justice and dignity.  It signifies not only a willful disregard or disobedience of the court’s orders but such conduct as tends to bring the authority of the court and the administration of law into disrepute or in some manner to impede the due administration of justice.  There are two kinds of contempt punishable by law: direct contempt and indirect contempt.  Direct contempt is committed when a person is guilty of misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same, including disrespect toward the court, offensive personalities toward others, or refusal to be sworn or to answer as a witness, or to subscribe an affidavit or deposition when lawfully required to do so. Indirect contempt or constructive contempt is that which is committed out of the presence of the court.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010

Contempt; indirect contempt.  Section 3 of Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure includes, among the grounds for filing a case for indirect contempt, the following:

Section 3.  Indirect contempt to be punished after charge and hearing.  –

After charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the accused to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for contempt:

x x x

(b)    Disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process, order, judgment or command of a court, or injunction granted by a court or judge, x x x

(c)    Any abuse of or any unlawful interference with the process or proceedings of a court not constituting direct contempt under Section 1 of this rule;

(d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice;

x x x

When the TRO issued by the RTC was served upon the SBMA officers on 13 June 2002, there was already an existing warrant of seizure and detention (dated 22 May 2002) issued by the BOC against the subject rice shipment.  Thus, as far as the SBMA officers were concerned, exclusive jurisdiction over the subject shipment remained with the BOC, and the RTC had no jurisdiction over cases involving said shipment. Consequently, the SBMA officers refused to comply with the TRO issued by the RTC.  Considering the foregoing circumstances, we believe that the SBMA officers may be considered to have acted in good faith when they refused to follow the TRO issued by the RTC.   The SBMA officers’ refusal to follow the court order was not contumacious but due to the honest belief that jurisdiction over the subject shipment remained with the BOC because of the existing warrant of seizure and detention against said shipment.  Accordingly, these SBMA officers should not be held accountable for their acts which were done in good faith and not without legal basis.  Thus, we hold that the RTC Order dated 21 November 2002 which found the SBMA officers guilty of  indirect contempt for not complying with the RTC’s TRO should be invalidated.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010.

Dismissals; dismissal due to plaintiff’s fault.  Section 3, Rule 17 of the Rules of Court is the applicable rule in the instant case, which provision reads:

Sec. 3. Dismissal due to fault of plaintiff. — If, for no justifiable cause, the plaintiff fails to appear on the date of the presentation of his evidence in chief on the complaint, or to prosecute his action for an unreasonable length of time, or to comply with these Rules or any order of the court, the complaint may be dismissed upon motion of the defendant or upon the court’s own motion, without prejudice to the right of the defendant to prosecute his counterclaim in the same or in a separate action. This dismissal shall have the effect of an adjudication upon the merits, unless otherwise declared by the court.

Gomez v. Alcantara explains that “[t]he aforequoted provision enumerates the instances when a complaint may be dismissed due to the plaintiff’s fault: (1) if he fails to appear on the date for the presentation of his evidence in chief on the complaint; (2) if he fails to prosecute his action for an unreasonable length of time; or (3) if he fails to comply with the Rules or any order of the court.  The dismissal of a case for failure to prosecute has the effect of adjudication on the merits, and is necessarily understood to be with prejudice to the filing of another action, unless otherwise provided in the order of dismissal.  Stated differently, the general rule is that dismissal of a case for failure to prosecute is to be regarded as an adjudication on the merits and with prejudice to the filing of another action, and the only exception is when the order of dismissal expressly contains a qualification that the dismissal is without prejudice.”  Furthermore, in Marahay v. Melicor, we pronounced that “[w]hile a court can dismiss a case on the ground of non prosequitur, the real test for the exercise of such power is whether, under the circumstances, plaintiff is chargeable with want of due diligence in failing to proceed with reasonable promptitude.  In the absence of a pattern or scheme to delay the disposition of the case or a wanton failure to observe the mandatory requirement of the rules on the part of the plaintiff, as in the case at bar, courts should decide to dispense with rather than wield their authority to dismiss.”  Guided by the foregoing principles, we find that the RTC grievously erred in dismissing Civil Case No. Q-00-40010.

According to the RTC Order dated October 13, 2000, the trial court dismissed the case filed by PCI Leasing in view of the absence of the latter’s counsel at the hearing scheduled for that day.  PCI Leasing had also been directed, on July 13, 2000, to “take the necessary steps to actively prosecute [its] case, otherwise, the same shall be dismissed.”  To our mind, the above circumstances do not constitute sufficient bases to warrant the conclusion that PCI Leasing had lost interest in prosecuting Civil Case No. Q-00-40010.

In its Motion for Reconsideration of the Order dated October 13, 2000, PCI Leasing explained that its counsel merely came late during the hearing scheduled for the said date, arriving at the time when Judge Domingo-Regala was already dictating the order of dismissal.   Said hearing was not even for the presentation of the evidence in chief of PCI Leasing, where the latter’s presence would be indispensable, but merely for the issuance of Alias Summons.  Incidentally, the Motion for Issuance of Alias Summons filed by PCI Leasing is non-litigious in nature, which does not require a hearing under the Rules, as the same could have been acted upon by the RTC without prejudicing the rights of the respondents. All facts necessary for the determination of the motion are already specified therein or a matter of record and there was yet no adverse party to dispute the same as the court had not even acquired jurisdiction over the person of the respondents.  It was serious error on the part of the trial court to have denied the first motion for issuance of alias summons for want of notice of hearing.  It was also not mandatory for the trial court to set the second motion for hearing.  Despite this, the RTC still dismissed the case and eventually denied the Motion for Reconsideration thereof.  While trial courts have the discretion to impose sanctions on counsels or litigants for tardiness or absence at hearings, such sanctions should be proportionate to the offense and should still conform to the dictates of justice and fair play.

Likewise, only a period of one month has passed since PCI Leasing was ordered by the RTC to actively pursue its case, up to the time when Civil Case No. Q-00-40010 was actually dismissed.  It does not escape this Court’s notice that PCI Leasing failed to successfully prosecute the case for several months due to the difficulties it encountered in locating respondents, who appeared to have a propensity for changing addresses and refusing to accept court processes.  Under these circumstances, the delay in the trial court proceedings was not entirely the fault of PCI Leasing.  Verily, it can hardly be said that PCI Leasing engaged in a pattern or scheme to delay the disposition of Civil Case No. Q-00-40010 or committed a wanton failure to observe the mandatory requirement of the rules.  On this score, Calalang v. Court of Appeals underscores that “[u]nless a party’s conduct is so negligent, irresponsible, contumacious, or dilatory as to provide substantial grounds for dismissal for non-appearance, the courts should consider lesser sanctions which would still amount into achieving the desired end.” PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. vs. Antonio C. Milan, et al., G.R. No. 151215, April 5, 2010.

Ejectment; nature of action; summary action to protect right to possession without involvement of title. Petitioner is, finally, out on a limb in faulting the Court of Appeals with failure to apply the first paragraph of Article 1676 of the Civil Code of the Philippines in relation to the lease he claims to have concluded with one Maria Ysabel Potenciano Padilla Sylianteng. In the absence of proof of his lessor’s title or respondent’s prior knowledge of said contract of lease, petitioner’s harping over the same provision simply amounts to an implied admission that the premises occupied by him lie within the metes and bounds of the subject parcel.  Even then, the resolution of said issue is clearly inappropriate since ejectment cases are summary actions intended to provide an expeditious manner for protecting possession or right to possession without involvement of title.  Moreover, if a defendant’s mere assertion of ownership in an ejectment case will not oust the MeTC of its summary jurisdiction, we fail to see why it should be any different in this case where petitioner merely alleged his lessor’s supposed title over the subject parcel.  Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Execution; execution of judgment for specific acts; removal of improvements.  In addition, Rule 39, Section 10, paragraphs (c) and (d), of the Rules of Court provides the procedure for execution of judgments for specific acts, as follows:

SECTION 10. Execution of judgments for specific act.-

x  x  x  x

(c) Delivery or restitution of real property. – The officer shall demand of the person against whom the judgment for the delivery or restitution of real property is rendered and all persons claiming rights under him to peaceably vacate the property within the three (3) working days, and restore possession thereof to the judgment obligee; otherwise, the officer shall oust all such persons therefrom with the assistance, if necessary, of appropriate peace officers, and employing such means as may be reasonably necessary to retake possession, and place the judgment obligee in possession of such property. Any costs, damages, rents or profits awarded by the judgment shall be satisfied in the same manner as a judgment for money.

(d) Removal of improvements on property subject of execution. - When the property subject of execution contains improvements constructed or planted by the judgment obligor or his agent, the officer shall not destroy, demolish or remove said improvements, except upon special order of the court, issued upon motion of the judgment obligee after due hearing and after the former has failed to remove the same within a reasonable time fixed by the court. (Emphasis supplied)

In Buñag v. Court of Appeals, we explained that a judgment for the delivery or restitution of property is essentially an order to place the prevailing party in possession of the property. If the defendant refuses to surrender possession of the property to the prevailing party, the sheriff or other proper officer should oust him.  No express order to this effect needs to be stated in the decision; nor is a categorical statement needed in the decision that in such event the sheriff or other proper officer shall have the authority to remove the improvements on the property if the defendant fails to do so within a reasonable period of time.  The removal of the improvements on the land under these circumstances is deemed read into the decision, subject only to the issuance of a special order by the court for the removal of the improvements.  Narciso Tumibay, et al. vs. Sps. Yolanda T. Sora, et al., G.R. No. 152016, April 13, 2010.

Execution; execution pending appeal.  Petitioners received their copy of the February 7, 2001 Order on February 20, 2001.  They timely filed a notice of appeal on March 6, 2001, or after 14 days.  The appeal was duly perfected.  When an appeal had been duly perfected, execution of the judgment, whether wholly or partially, was not a matter of right, but of discretion provided good reasons therefor existed.  The compelling grounds for the issuance of the writ must be stated in a special order after due hearing.  Aside from the existence of good reasons, the rules also require that the motion for partial execution should have been filed while the trial court still had jurisdiction over the case.  In the present case, the RTC’s May 9, 2002 Order granting the issuance of the writ of execution failed to state good reasons for the issuance of the writ.  The RTC mistakenly deemed that the execution should issue as a matter of right because it had held that part of its September 14, 2001 Decision had become final and executory.  As previously discussed, the said proposition is erroneous because the Decision in the present case is not properly severable.

Furthermore, the motion for partial execution was filed only on August 22, 2001, more than four months after the appeal was perfected.  “In appeals by notice of appeal, the court loses jurisdiction over the case upon the perfection of the appeals filed in due time and the expiration of the time to appeal of the other parties.”  Each party only has at most 15 days from their receipt of the final order to appeal it.  Thus, when respondents filed their motion for partial execution the RTC no longer had jurisdiction over the case and it no longer had jurisdiction to act on the said motion for partial execution.  Aside from the fact that the appeal was filed on time and should thus not have been dismissed in the assailed May 9, 2002 Order, the said Order, which also resolved the motion for partial execution, fell short of the requirements of Section 2, Rule 39, as previously discussed. Where the order of execution is not in conformity with the rules, the same is null and void.  Therefore, the CA erred in not nullifying the May 9, 2002 Order.  Associated Anglo-American Tobacco Corporation, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 167237, April 23, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; burden of party alleging defect in publication and notice.  As regards respondents’ allegation on the defect in the publication and notice requirements of the extrajudicial foreclosure sale, the same is unavailing.  The rule is that it is the mortgagor who alleges absence of a requisite who has the burden of establishing such fact.  This is so because foreclosure proceedings have in their favor the presumption of regularity and the burden of evidence to rebut the same is on the party who questions it.  Here, except for their bare allegations, respondents failed to present any evidence to support them.  In addition, NHA stated in its Comment to Motion for Leave of Court to Intervene that it had complied with the publication of the Notice of Sheriff’s Sale in the Manila Times in the latter’s issues dated July 14, 21 and 28, 1990.  It also claimed that an Affidavit of Publication of said newspaper was attached as Annex “B” in the said comment.  NHA also said that respondents had been furnished with a copy of the Notice of Sheriff’s Sale as shown at the bottom portion of said notice.  From all these, it would tend to show that respondents’ aspersion of non-compliance with the requirements of foreclosure sale is a futile attempt to salvage its statutory right to redeem their foreclosed properties, which right had long been lost by inaction.  National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; publication requirement; burden of proof.  It is settled that for the purpose of extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage, the party alleging non-compliance with the requisite publication has the burden of proving the same.  In this case, respondents presented the testimony of a newsstand owner to prove that Ang Pinoy is not a newspaper of general circulation. However, this particular evidence is unreliable, as the same witness testified that he sells newspapers in Quezon City, not in Caloocan  City, and that he is unaware of Ang Pinoy newspaper simply because he is not selling the same and he had not heard of it.   His testimony states:

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

Notwithstanding, petitioner could have easily produced the affidavit of publication and other competent evidence (such as the published notices) to refute respondents’ claim of lack of publication of the notice of sale.  In Spouses Pulido v. Court of Appeals, the Court held:

While it may be true that the party alleging non-compliance with the requisite publication has the burden of proof, still negative allegations need not be proved even if essential to one’s cause of action or defense if they constitute a denial of the existence of a document the custody of which belongs to the other party.

In relation to the evidentiary weight of the affidavit of publication, the Court ruled in China Banking Corporation v. Spouses Martir that the affidavit of publication executed by the account executive of the newspaper is prima facie proof that the newspaper is generally circulated in the place where the properties are located.  In the present case, the Affidavit of Publication or Exhibit “8,” although formally offered by petitioner, was excluded by the trial court for being hearsay.  Petitioner never challenged the exclusion of the affidavit of publication. Instead, petitioner relies solely on the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Alberto Castillo to prove compliance with the publication requirement under Section 3 of Act No. 3135.  However, there is nothing in such testimony to clearly and convincingly prove that petitioner complied with the mandatory requirement of publication.  When Sheriff Castillo was asked how he knew that the notice of sale was published, he simply replied that “during the auction sale the mortgagee bank presented the affidavit of publication.”  Evidently, such an answer does not suffice to establish petitioner’s claim of compliance with the statutory requirement of publication. On the contrary, Sheriff Castillo’s testimony reveals that he had no personal knowledge of the actual publication of the notice of sale, much less the extent of the circulation of Ang Pinoy.  Moreover, the Court notes that Ang Pinoy is a newspaper of general circulation printed and published in Manila, not in Caloocan City where the mortgaged property is located, as indicated in the excluded Affidavit of Publication.  This is contrary to the requirement under Section 3 of Act No. 3135 pertaining to the publication of the notice of sale in a newspaper of general circulation in the city where the property is situated.  Hence, even if the Affidavit of Publication was admitted as part of petitioner’s evidence, it would not support petitioner’s case as it does not clearly prove petitioner’s compliance with the publication requirement.  Philippine Savings Bank vs. Spouses Dionisio Geronimo, et al., G.R. No. 170241, April 19, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; publication requirement; strict compliance.  Once again, the Court stresses the importance of the notice requirement, as enunciated in Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, Inc. v. Peñafiel, thus:

The object of a notice of sale is to inform the public of the nature and condition of the property to be sold, and of the time, place and terms of the sale. Notices are given for the purpose of securing bidders and to prevent a sacrifice [sale] of the property. The goal of the notice requirement is to achieve a “reasonably wide publicity” of the auction sale. This is why publication in a newspaper of general circulation is required. The Court has previously taken judicial notice of the “far-reaching effects” of publishing the notice of sale in a newspaper of general circulation.

In addition, the Court reminds mortgagees of their duty to comply faithfully with the statutory requirements of foreclosure. In Metropolitan Bank v. Wong, the Court declared:

While the law recognizes the right of a bank to foreclose a mortgage upon the mortgagor’s failure to pay his obligation, it is imperative that such right be exercised according to its clear mandate. Each and every requirement of the law must be complied with, lest, the valid exercise of the right would end. It must be remembered that the exercise of a right ends when the right disappears, and it disappears when it is abused especially to the prejudice of others.

In sum, petitioner failed to establish its compliance with the publication requirement under Section 3 of Act No. 3135. Consequently, the questioned extrajudicial foreclosure of real estate mortgage and sale are void.  Philippine Savings Bank vs. Spouses Dionisio Geronimo, et al., G.R. No. 170241, April 19, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; registration of sheriff’s certificate of sale; substantial compliance. Indeed, the prevailing rule is that there is effective registration once the registrant has fulfilled all that is needed of him for purposes of entry and annotation, so that what is left to be accomplished lies solely on the register of deeds.  The Court thus once held:

Current doctrine thus seems to be that entry alone produces the effect of registration, whether the transaction entered is a voluntary or an involuntary one, so long as the registrant has complied with all that is required of him for purposes of entry and annotation, and nothing more remains to be done but a duty incumbent solely on the register of deeds.

In the case under consideration, NHA presented the sheriff’s certificate of sale to the Register of Deeds and the same was entered as Entry No. 2873 and said entry was further annotated in the owner’s transfer certificate of title.  A year later and after the mortgagors did not redeem the said properties, respondents filed with the Register of Deeds an Affidavit of Consolidation of Ownership after which the same instrument was presumably entered into in the day book as the same was annotated in the owner’s duplicate copy.  Just like in DBPLevinPotenciano and Autocorp, NHA followed the procedure in order to have its sheriff’s certificate of sale annotated in the transfer certificates of title.  There would be, therefore, no reason not to apply the ruling in said cases to this one.  It was not NHA’s fault that the certificate of sale was not annotated on the transfer certificates of title which were supposed to be in the custody of the Registrar, since the same were burned.  Neither could NHA be blamed for the fact that there were no reconstituted titles available during the time of inscription as it had taken the necessary steps in having the same reconstituted as early as July 15, 1988.  NHA did everything within its power to assert its right.

While it may be true that, in DBP, the Court ruled that “in the particular situation here obtaining, annotation of the disputed entry on the reconstituted originals of the certificates of title to which it refers is entirely proper and justified,” this does not mean, as respondents insist, that the ruling therein applies exclusively to the factual milieu and the issue obtaining in said case, and not to similar cases.  There is nothing in the subject declaration that categorically states its pro hac vice character.  For in truth, what the said statement really conveys is that the current doctrine that entry in the primary book produces the effect of registration can be applied in the situation obtaining in that case since the registrant therein complied with all that was required of it, hence, it was fairly reasonable that its acts be given the effect of registration, just as the Court did in the past cases. In fact the Court there continued with this pronouncement:

To hold said entry ineffective, as does the appealed resolution, amounts to declaring that it did not, and does not, protect the registrant (DBP) from claims arising, or transactions made, thereafter which are adverse to or in derogation of the rights created or conveyed by the transaction thus entered.  That, surely, is a result that is neither just nor can, by any reasonable interpretation of Section 56 of Presidential Decree No. 1529 be asserted as warranted by its terms.

National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; writ of possession.  Considering that the foreclosure sale and its subsequent registration with the Register of Deeds were done validly, there is no reason for the non-issuance of the writ of possession.  A writ of possession is an order directing the sheriff to place a person in possession of a real or personal property, such as when a property is extrajudicially foreclosed.  Section 7 of Act No. 3135 provides for the rule in the issuance of the writ of possession involving extrajudicial foreclosure sales of real estate mortgage, to wit:

Sec. 7.  In any sale made under the provisions of this Act, the purchaser may petition the [Regional Trial Court] of the province or place where the property or any part thereof is situated, to give him possession thereof during the redemption period, furnishing bond in an amount equivalent to the use of the property for a period of twelve months, to indemnify the debtor in case it be shown that the sale was made without violating the mortgage or without complying with the requirements of this Act.  Such petition shall be made under oath and filed in the form of an ex parte motion in the registration or cadastral proceedings if the property is registered, or in special proceedings in the case of property registered under the Mortgage Law or under section one hundred and ninety-four of the Administrative Code, or of any other real property encumbered with a mortgage duly registered in the office of any register of deeds in accordance with any existing law, and in each case the clerk of the court shall, upon the filing of such petition, collect the fees specified in paragraph eleven of section one hundred and fourteen of Act Numbered Four Hundred and ninety-six, as amended by Act Numbered Twenty-eight hundred and sixty-six, and the court shall, upon approval of the bond, order that a writ of possession issue, addressed to the sheriff of the province in which the property is situated, who shall execute said order immediately.

This provision of law authorizes the purchaser in a foreclosure sale to apply for a writ of possession during the redemption period by filing an ex parte motion under oath for that purpose in the corresponding registration or cadastral proceeding in the case of property with Torrens title.  Upon the filing of such motion and the approval of the corresponding bond, the law also in express terms directs the court to issue the order for a writ of possession.  The time-honored precept is that after the consolidation of titles in the buyer’s name, for failure of the mortgagor to redeem, the writ of possession becomes a matter of right.  Its issuance to a purchaser in an extrajudicial foreclosure is merely a ministerial function.  The writ of possession issues as a matter of course upon the filing of the proper motion and the approval of the corresponding bond.  The judge issuing the writ following these express provisions of law neither exercises his official discretion nor judgment.  As such, the court granting the writ cannot be charged with having acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion.  To accentuate the writ’s ministerial character, the Court disallowed injunction to prohibit its issuance despite a pending action for annulment of mortgage or the foreclosure itself.  National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Forcible entry; element of prior possession.  Then as now, petitioner argues that, aside from the admission in the complaint that the subject parcel was left idle and unguarded, respondent’s claim of prior possession is clearly negated by the fact that he had been in occupancy thereof since 1999.  While prior physical possession is, admittedly, an indispensable requirement in forcible entry cases, the dearth of merit in petitioner’s position is, however, evident from the principle that possession can be acquired not only by material occupation, but also by the fact that a thing is subject to the action of one’s will or by the proper acts and legal formalities established for acquiring such right.  Because possession can also be acquired by juridical acts to which the law gives the force of acts of possession, e.g., donations, succession, execution and registration of public instruments, inscription of possessory information titles and the like, it has been held that one need not have actual or physical occupation of every square inch of the property at all times to be considered in possession.  In this case, the subject parcel was acquired by respondent by virtue of the 4 June 1999 Deed of Assignment executed in its favor by the Spouses Ong Tiko and Emerenciana Sylianteng.  Although it did not immediately put the same to active use, respondent appears to have additionally caused the property to be registered in its name as of 27 February 2002 and to have paid the real property taxes due thereon alongside the sundry expenses incidental thereto.  Viewed in the light of the foregoing juridical acts, it consequently did not matter that, by the time respondent conducted its ocular inspection in October 2003, petitioner had already been occupying the land since 1999.  Ordinarily reckoned from the date of actual entry on the land, the one year period is counted from the time the plaintiff acquired knowledge of the dispossession when, as here, the same had been effected by means of stealth. Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Forcible entry; elements of cause of action.  The rule is no different in actions for forcible entry where the following requisites are essential for the MeTC’s acquisition of jurisdiction over the case, viz.: (a) the plaintiffs must allege their prior physical possession of the property; (b) they must assert that they were deprived of possession either by force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth; and, (c) the action must be filed within one (1) year from the time the owners or legal possessors learned of their deprivation of the physical possession of the property.  As it is not essential that the complaint should expressly employ the language of the law, it is considered a sufficient compliance of the requirement where the facts are set up showing that dispossession took place under said conditions.  The one-year period within which to bring an action for forcible entry is generally counted from the date of actual entry on the land, except that when the entry is through stealth, the one-year period is counted from the time the plaintiff learned thereof.  Even prescinding from the fact that the parties had admitted the MeTC’s jurisdiction, our perusal of the record shows that respondent’s 9 January 2004 amended complaint was able to make out a cause of action for forcible entry against petitioner.  As the registered owner of the subject parcel, respondent distinctly alleged that, by its representatives and thru its predecessors-in-interest, it had been in possession of the subject parcel and had exercised over the same all attributes of ownership, including the payment of realty taxes and other expenses; that an ocular inspection conducted in October 2003 revealed that petitioner and his co-defendants have succeeded in occupying the property by means of stealth and strategy; and, that its subsequent demands to vacate had been unheeded by said interlopers.  Considering that the test for determining the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint is whether, admitting the facts alleged, the court can render a valid judgment in accordance with the prayer of the plaintiff, we find that the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that the MeTC had jurisdiction over the case.  Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Forcible Entry; question of ownership may be resolved by court to determine issue of prior possession.  Thus, to our mind, the only real questions appropriate for resolution at this stage of the case are:  (1) Do the TCTs of Hacienda Bigaa have probative value in determining the issues of ownership and possession of the disputed lots? (2)  Is Chavez – as successor-in-interest of government lessee or fishpond permittee Zoila de Chavez – entitled to possession of these lots?  In these lights, the resolution of this case hinges on the question of better title – who, between the petitioner and the respondent, has the better right of possession of the disputed lots.  Are these issues misplaced in a forcible entry case?  To answer this, we hark back to the origins of the present case – a complaint for forcible entry that the MTC of Calatagan, Batangas dismissed.  Both the RTC and the CA subsequently affirmed this dismissal.  As a forcible entry suit, the threshold question presented is: was the prior possession of the then plaintiff (now petitioner) Hacienda Bigaa over the disputed lots sufficiently established to give it cause for the ejectment of then defendant (now respondent) Epifanio Chavez?  We recall in this regard that the MTC issued a pre-trial order identifying the issues of (1) who has the better right of possession; and (2) res judicata.  On the issue of possession, the MTC found the need to determine the question of title or ownership in passing upon the question of possession after Chavez raised the issue of ownership at that level.  As a general rule in forcible entry cases, ownership or title is inconsequential; the primordial issue is possession de facto and not possession de jure.  The court, however, may tackle the issue of ownership or title, if raised, if this issue is indispensable in resolving the issue of possession.  Since Chavez raised the question of ownership or title in his answer, the issue of ownership became a material consideration in the lower court’s inquiry into the character, nature and extent of the parties’ claimed possession.  The MTC tackled the issue of prior possession by taking judicial notice of our factual determination in De los Angeles that Zobel of Hacienda Calatagan – Hacienda Bigaa’s predecessor-in-interest – had ousted Zoila de Chavez – Chavez’s predecessor-in-interest – from the lots she occupied as a holder of government-issued fishpond permits.  The MTC in this regard held –

[T]he court holds that the land now in litigation forms part of the public dominion which properly belongs to the State.  Suffice it to say that when [respondent Chavez] entered and occupied the [premises] on April 29, 1996, it was in representation of the State being the successor-in-interest of Zoila de Chavez, a government fishpond permittee and/or lessee.  It should be recounted that Zoila de Chavez was in actual physical possession of the land until she was ousted by Enrique Zobel by bulldozing and flattening the area. (Emphasis supplied.)

Zoila de Chavez’s ouster from the premises became the basis of the MTC’s conclusion that she had prior possession as she could not have been ousted from the premises had she not been in prior possession.  This point was reiterated in the present petition by Chavez who died pending the resolution of this case and has been substituted by his brother, Santiago V. Chavez. The respondent’s comment before us states:

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

This argument on the direct issue of prior possession is separate from the issue of ownership that Chavez raised as an issue determinative of possession.  The issue of ownership shifts our determination to who, between the parties, has title and the concomitant right of possession to the disputed lots.  Hacienda Bigaa, Inc. vs. Epifanio V. Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 174160, April 20, 2010.

Judgments; “Amended judgment” distinguished from “Supplemental judgment.”  Both parties agree that the February 7, 2001 Order increased the monetary awards in the Decision, specifically, the amount of overage from P23,820.16 to P843,383.11 and the award of moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees from P50,000.00 to P2,000,000.00.  They however, differ on whether these changes constituted an amendment of the Decision or merely provided a supplement to the Decision.  Petitioners argue that the change constituted a substantial amendment, which therefore makes the entire case reviewable on appeal, while respondents argue that the Order merely supplements the Decision which therefore makes only the changes reviewable on appeal.  They both cite Esquivel v. Alegre which states:

There is a difference between an amended judgment and a supplemental judgment.  In an amended and clarified judgment, the lower court makes a thorough study of the original judgment and renders the amended and clarified judgment only after considering all the factual and legal issues.  The amended and clarified decision is an entirely new decision which supersedes the original decision.  Following the court’s differentiation of a supplemental pleading from an amending pleading, it can be said that a supplemental decision does not take the place or extinguish the existence of the original.  As its very name denotes, it only serves to bolster or adds something to the primary decision.  A supplement exists side by side with the original. It does not replace that which it supplements.

In the present case, the dispositive portion of the February 7, 2001 Order was crafted in such a way that it initially evades a categorical classification into either of the situations as described in the above-cited case.  Hence, we further take into consideration that what plaintiffs filed was merely a Partial Motion for Reconsideration.  It is clear they were seeking a partial change in the original Decision.  It follows that there were some parts of the Decision that they sought to remain unchanged. The RTC, thus made a study of only a portion of its original Decision and then amended the pertinent portion.  The RTC Decision was indeed, only partially amended.  The February 7, 2001 Order cannot be considered as a supplemental Decision because it cannot exist side by side with the original pertinent portion on overage, damages and attorney’s fees.  The former replaced and superceded the latter.  Associated Anglo-American Tobacco Corporation, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 167237, April 23, 2010.

Judgments; finality of judgments; relaxation of rule. Social Security System v. Isip reiterates the well-established doctrine regarding finality of judgments, thus:

A judgment becomes “final and executory” by operation of law.  Finality becomes a fact when the reglementary period to appeal lapses and no appeal is perfected within such period.  As a consequence, no court (not even this Court) can exercise appellate jurisdiction to review a case or modify a decision that has became final.

When a final judgment is executory, it becomes immutable and unalterable.  It may no longer be modified in any respect either by the court which rendered it or even by this Court.  The doctrine is founded on considerations of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional errors, judgments must become final at some definite point in time.

The doctrine of immutability and inalterability of a final judgment has a two-fold purpose: (1) to avoid delay in the administration of justice and thus, procedurally, to make orderly the discharge of judicial business and (2) to put an end to judicial controversies, at the risk of occasional errors, which is precisely why courts exist.  Controversies cannot drag on indefinitely.  The rights and obligations of every litigant must not hang in suspense for an indefinite period of time.

Notwithstanding the doctrine on immutability of final judgments, the Court finds, after a through review of the records, that compelling circumstances are extant in this case, which clearly warrant the exercise of our equity jurisdiction. Relevantly, Barnes v. Padilla states an exception to the rule on the finality of judgments in this wise:

However, this Court has relaxed this rule in order to serve substantial justice considering (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.

Invariably, rules of procedure should be viewed as mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice. Their strict and rigid application, which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, must always be eschewed.  Even the Rules of Court reflects this principle.  The power to suspend or even disregard rules can be so pervasive and compelling as to alter even that which this Court itself had already declared to be final.

In the instant case, the crux of the controversy involves the property of PCI Leasing, i.e., the sum of money supposedly owed to it by the respondents.  To our mind, it will not serve the ends of substantial justice if the RTC’s dismissal of the case with prejudice on pure technicalities would be perfunctorily upheld by appellate courts likewise on solely procedural grounds, unless the procedural lapses committed were so gross, negligent, tainted with bad faith or tantamount to abuse or misuse of court processes. In this instance, PCI Leasing would be left without any judicial recourse to collect the amount of P2,327,833.33 it loaned to the respondents.  Corollarily, if PCI Leasing would be forever barred from collecting the aforesaid amount, respondent Antonio stands to be unjustly enriched at the expense of PCI Leasing.  Thus, in order to obviate the occurrence of the above-mentioned scenario, the Court finds it necessary to subject to judicial review the RTC Order dated October 13, 2000, dismissing Civil Case No. Q-00-40010.  PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. vs. Antonio C. Milan, et al., G.R. No. 151215, April 5, 2010.

Judgments; ground not cited in challenged judgment.  Respondent also argues that Ang Ladlad made untruthful statements in its petition when it alleged that it had nationwide existence through its members and affiliate organizations. The COMELEC claims that upon verification by its field personnel, it was shown that “save for a few isolated places in the country, petitioner does not exist in almost all provinces in the country.”  This argument that “petitioner made untruthful statements in its petition when it alleged its national existence” is a new one; previously, the COMELEC claimed that petitioner was “not being truthful when it said that it or any of its nominees/party-list representatives have not violated or failed to comply with laws, rules, or regulations relating to the elections.”  Nowhere was this ground for denial of petitioner’s accreditation mentioned or even alluded to in the Assailed Resolutions. This, in itself, is quite curious, considering that the reports of petitioner’s alleged non-existence were already available to the COMELEC prior to the issuance of the First Assailed Resolution. At best, this is irregular procedure; at worst, a belated afterthought, a change in respondent’s theory, and a serious violation of petitioner’s right to procedural due process.  Ang Ladlad LGBT Party vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 190582, April 8, 2010.

Judgments; not confined to what appears on face of the decision.  We are not persuaded by the petitioners’ argument that, since the RTC decision to reconvey to respondents the subject property did not expressly order the removal of improvements thereon, the RTC cannot, by order, reach these improvements and accordingly act to enforce its decision.  As a general rule, the writ of execution should conform to the dispositive portion of the decision to be executed; an execution is void if it is in excess of and beyond the original judgment or award.  The settled general principle is that a writ of execution must conform strictly to every essential particular of the judgment promulgated, and may not vary the terms of the judgment it seeks to enforce, nor may it go beyond the terms of the judgment sought to be executed.  Nonetheless, we have held that a judgment is not confined to what appears on the face of the decision, but extends as well to those necessarily included therein or necessary thereto.  Thus, in Perez v. Evite, where the ownership of a parcel of land was decreed in the judgment, the delivery of possession of the land was considered included in the decision where the defeated party’s claim to possession was based solely on his claim of ownership.  In Baluyut v. Guiao, we stressed that this rule fully conforms with Rule 39, Section 47, paragraph (c) of the Rules of Court that provides:

SECTION 47.              Effect of judgments or final orders. — The effect of a judgment or final order rendered by a court of the Philippines, having jurisdiction to pronounce the judgment or final order, may be as follows:

x  x  x  x

(c) In any other litigation between the same parties or their successors in interest, that only is deemed to have been adjudged in a former judgment or final order which appears upon its face to have been so adjudged, or which was actually and necessarily included therein or necessary thereto. (Emphasis supplied.)

Narciso Tumibay, et al. vs. Sps. Yolanda T. Sora, et al., G.R. No. 152016, April 13, 2010.

Judgment; partial amended judgment; effect on appeal.  Now what is the effect of this partial amendment?  Is the subject RTC Decision divisible, such that a portion may be considered already final and unappealable while another portion may be considered as not yet final and unappealable?  To answer this question we draw some light from some provisions of the Rules of Court that permit divisions, to wit:

Rule 37, Sec. 7.  Partial new trial or reconsideration.- If the grounds for a motion under this Rule appear to the court to affect the issues as to only a part, or less than all of the matter in controversy, or only one, or less than all, of the parties to it, the court may order a new trial or grant reconsideration as to such issues if severable without interfering with the judgment or final order upon the rest. (Italics and emphasis supplied)

Rule 36, Sec. 5. Separate judgments.-When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, the court, at any stage, upon a determination of the issues material to a particular claim and all counterclaims arising out of the transaction or occurrence which is the subject matter of the claim, may render a separate judgment disposing of such claim. The judgment shall terminate the action with respect to the claim so disposed of and the action shall proceed as to the remaining claims.

It can be seen that when matters, issues or claims can properly and conveniently be separately resolved, then division is permitted, otherwise it is not.  We see no hindrance in applying this thesis to the current situation.  In the present case, the matter of the release of the mortgaged property is material and intertwined with the issue of the amount of overage as well as the issue on the amount of damages.  It is difficult to separate these matters because a determination of the correct amount of overage would require the examination and computation of the entire account of deliveries and payments.  Necessarily, upon re-examination of the subject account during an appeal, the possibility of finding a shortage instead of an overage is present.  And dependent on the result of the re-examination of the entire account is the determination of the correctness of either the foreclosure or release of the mortgaged property.  It follows that the ruling on the amount of damages and attorney’s fees, if any, may also be affected by a re-examination of the entire account.

As the disposition of some inter-related issues in the original RTC Decision were materially amended by the February 7, 2001 RTC Order, these two issuances must be taken in conjunction with each other.  Together, these two issuances form one integrated amended decision.  Hence, an appeal from the February 7, 2001 RTC Order must be deemed to be an appeal from the whole integrated amended Decision.  Associated Anglo-American Tobacco Corporation, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al.,G.R. No. 167237, April 23, 2010.

Judgments; res judicata; conclusiveness of judgment.  As framed above, the case before us inevitably brings to memory the antecedent decided cases touching on the ownership of the vast tract of land in Calatagan, Batangas, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 722 in the name/s of Ayala y Cia, Alfonso Zobel, Jacobo Zobel and Enrique Zobel and/or Hacienda Calatagan – the predecessors-in-interest of petitioner Hacienda Bigaa.  We ruled in the antecedent cases of Dizon, Ayala y Cia, and  De los Angeles, that:  (1) all expanded subdivision titles issued in the name of Ayala y Cia, the Zobels and/or Hacienda Calatagan covering areas beyond the true extent of TCT No. 722 are null and void because they cover areas belonging to the public domain; (2) Ayala y Cia and the Zobels of Hacienda Calatagan are mere usurpers of these public domain areas; and that (3) these areas must revert to the Republic.  Significantly, we declared in De los Angeles that the Republic, as the rightful owner of the expanded areas – portions of the public domain – has the right to place its lessees and permittees (among them Zoila de Chavez) in possession of the fishpond lots whose ownership and possession were in issue in the case.

These antecedent cases lay to rest the issues of ownership and of possession as an attribute thereof, which we both ruled to be in favor of the Republic and its lessees or permittees.  The present case is a stark repetition of scenarios in these cases.  The protagonists remain virtually the same – with petitioner Hacienda Bigaa taking the place of its predecessors-in-interest Ayala y Cia and/or the Zobels of Hacienda Calatagan, and respondent Epifanio V. Chavez taking the place of his predecessor-in-interest Zoila de Chavez whose possession was under bona fide authority from the Republic.  Considering that in this case the disputed lots are among those litigated in the antecedent cases and the issues of ownership and possession are again in issue, the principle of res judicata inevitably must be considered and applied, if warranted.

The doctrine of res judicata is set forth in Section 47 of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, which in its relevant part reads:

Sec. 47.  Effect of judgments or final orders. — The effect of a judgment or final order rendered by a court of the Philippines, having jurisdiction to pronounce the judgment or final order, may be as follows:

x  x  x  x

(b) In other cases, the judgment or final order is, with respect to the matter directly adjudged or as to any other matter that could have been raised in relation thereto, conclusive between the parties and their successors in interest by title subsequent to the commencement of the action or special proceeding, litigating for the same thing and under the same title and in the same capacity; and

(c) In any other litigation between the same parties or their successors in interest, that only is deemed to have been adjudged in a former judgment or final order which appears upon its face to have been so adjudged, or which was actually and necessarily included therein or necessary thereto.

This provision comprehends two distinct concepts of res judicata: (1) bar by former judgment and (2) conclusiveness of judgment. Under the first concept, res judicata absolutely bars any subsequent action when the following requisites concur:  (a) the former judgment or order was final; (b) it adjudged the pertinent issue or issues on their merits; (c) it was rendered by a court that had jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; and (d) between the first and the second actions, there was identity of parties, of subject matter, and of causes of action. Where no identity of causes of action but only identity of issues exists, res judicata comes under the second concept – i.e., under conclusiveness of judgment.  Under this concept, the rule bars the re-litigation of particular facts or issues involving the same parties even if raised under different claims or causes of action.  Conclusiveness of judgment finds application when a fact or question has been squarely put in issue, judicially passed upon, and adjudged in a former suit by a court of competent jurisdiction.  The fact or question settled by final judgment or order binds the parties to that action (and persons in privity with them or their successors-in-interest), and continues to bind them while the judgment or order remains standing and unreversed by proper authority on a timely motion or petition; the conclusively settled fact or question furthermore cannot again be litigated in any future or other action between the same parties or their privies and successors-in-interest, in the same or in any other court of concurrent jurisdiction, either for the same or for a different cause of action.  Thus, only the identities of parties and issues are required for the operation of the principle of conclusiveness of judgment.

While conclusiveness of judgment does not have the same barring effect as that of a bar by former judgment that proscribes subsequent actions, the former nonetheless estops the parties from raising in a later case the issues or points that were raised and controverted, and were determinative of the ruling in the earlier case.  In other words, the dictum laid down in the earlier final judgment or order becomes conclusive and continues to be binding between the same parties, their privies and successors-in-interest, as long as the facts on which that judgment was predicated continue to be the facts of the case or incident before the court in a later case; the binding effect and enforceability of that earlier dictum can no longer be re-litigated in a later case since the issue has already been resolved and finally laid to rest in the earlier case. Hacienda Bigaa, Inc. vs. Epifanio V. Chavez, et al.,G.R. No. 174160, April 20, 2010.

Judgments; res judicata; conclusiveness of judgment.  This case and the antecedent cases all involve the issue of ownership or better right of possession.  In Ayala y Cia, we affirmed an RTC decision that decreed:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered as follows:

(a)  Declaring as null and void Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-9550 (or Exhibit “24”) of the Register of Deeds of the Province of Batangas and other subdivision titles issued in favor of Ayala y Cia and;or Hacienda de Calatagan over the areas outside its private land covered by TCT No. 722, which, including the lots in T-9550 (lots 360, 362, 363 and 182) are hereby reverted to public dominion.  (Emphasis supplied, italics in the original.)

Consequently, lots and their titles derived from the Ayala’s and the Zobels’  TCT No. 722 not shown to be within the original coverage of this title are conclusively public domain areas and their titles will be struck down as nullities.  Thus, De los Angeles effectively annulled the subdivision titles disputed in the case for being among the “other subdivision titles” declared void for covering public domain areas, and ordered their reversion to the Republic.  De los Angeles recognized, too, the right of the Republic’s lessees and public fishpond permittees (among them Zoila de Chavez, mother and predecessor-in-interest of Chavez) to possess the fishpond lots in question because they derive their right of possession from the Republic – the rightful owner of these lots.

We reject, based on these discussions, Hacienda Bigaa’s position that there could be no res judicata in this case because the present suit is for forcible entry while the antecedent cases adverted were based on different causes of action – i.e., quieting of title, annulment of titles and accion reinvindicatoria.  For, res judicata, under the concept of conclusiveness of judgment, operates even if no absolute identity of causes of action exists.  Res judicata, in its conclusiveness of judgment concept, merely requires identity of issues.  We thus agree with the uniform view of the lower courts – the MTC, RTC and the CA – on the application of res judicata to the present case.  Hacienda Bigaa, Inc. vs. Epifanio V. Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 174160, April 20, 2010.

Judgments; stare decisis. What is more, in Autocorp Group v. Court of Appeals, the pertinent DBP ruling was applied, thereby demonstrating that the said ruling in DBP may be applied to other cases with similar factual and legal issues, viz:

Petitioners contend that the aforecited case of DBP is not apropos to the case at bar. Allegedly, in DBP, the bank not only paid the registration fees but also presented the owner’s duplicate certificate of title. We find no merit in petitioner’s posture x x x.

x x x x

Like in DBP v. Acting Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija, the instrument involved in the case at bar, is a sheriff’s certificate of sale, We hold now, as we held therein, that the registrant is under no necessity to present the owner’s duplicates of the certificates of title affected, for purposes of primary entry, as the transaction sought to be recorded is an involuntary transaction.

x x x x

x x x Such entry is equivalent to registration. Injunction would not lie anymore, as the act sought to be enjoined had already become a fait accompli or an accomplished act.

Moreover, respondents’ stand on the non-applicability of the DBP case to other cases, absent any statement thereof to such effect, contravenes the principle of stare decisis which urges that courts are to apply principles declared in prior decisions that are substantially similar to a pending case.  National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Judgments; summary judgment; improper when there is genuine issue as to material facts. Rule 35 of the Rules of Court provides for summary judgment, the pertinent provisions of which are the following:

Section 1.  Summary Judgment for claimant. A party seeking to recover upon a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim or to obtain a declaratory relief may, at any time after the pleading in answer thereto has been served, move with supporting affidavits, depositions or admissions for a summary judgment in his favor upon all or any part thereof.

Section 2.  Summary Judgment for the defending party. A party against whom a claim, counterclaim or cross-claim is asserted or a declaratory relief is sought may, at any time, move with supporting affidavits, depositions or admissions for a summary judgment in his favor as to all or any part thereof.

Section 3.  Motion and proceedings thereon. The motion shall be served at least ten (10) days before the time specified for the hearing.  The adverse party may serve opposing affidavits, depositions, or admissions at least three (3) days before the hearing.  After the hearing, the judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, supporting affidavits, depositions and admissions on file, show that, except as to the amount of damages,  there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

As can be deduced from the above provisions, summary judgment is a procedural devise resorted to in order to avoid long drawn out litigations and useless delays.  When the pleadings on file show that there are no genuine issues of facts to be tried, the Rules of Court allows a party to obtain immediate relief by way of summary judgment. That is, when the facts are not in dispute, the court is allowed to decide the case summarily by applying the law to the material facts. Conversely, where the pleadings tender a genuine issue, summary judgment is not proper.  A genuine issue is such fact which requires the presentation of evidence as distinguished from a sham, fictitious, contrived or false claim.

Here, we find the existence of genuine issues which removes the case from the coverage of summary judgment.  The variance in the allegations of the parties in their pleadings is evident.  Petitioner anchors his complaint for sum of money and/or judicial foreclosure on the alleged real estate mortgage over the subject property allegedly entered into by Comandante in behalf of her parents to secure payment of a loan amounting to P1,118,228.00.  To support this claim, petitioner attached to his complaint (1) the SPA alleged to have been executed by the Diazes;  (2) the Real Estate Mortgage Contract pertaining to the amount of P1,118,228.00; and, (3) a Promissory Note.  Comandante, in her Answer to petitioner’s Amended Complaint, assailed the validity and due execution of the abovementioned documents.  She asserted that the same were not duly, knowingly and validly executed by her and that it was petitioner who prepared all of them.  Also, although she admitted owing petitioner, same was not an absolute admission as she limited herself to an obligation amounting only to P600,000.00 inclusive of charges and interests.  She likewise claimed that such obligation is her personal obligation and not of her parents.  The Diazes, for their part, also denied that they executed the SPA authorizing their daughter to mortgage their property to petitioner as well as having any obligation to the latter.

Clearly, there are genuine issues in this case which require the presentation of evidence.  For one, it is necessary to ascertain in a full blown trial the validity and due execution of the SPA, the Real Estate Mortgage and the Promissory Notes because the determination of the following equally significant questions depends on them, to wit: (1) Are the Diazes obligated to petitioner or is the obligation a purely personal obligation of Comandante? and, (2) Is the sum of P1,118,228.00 as shown in the Real Estate Mortgage and the Promissory Note, the amount which is really due the petitioner?

To stress, trial courts have limited authority to render summary judgments and may do so only when there is clearly no genuine issue as to any material fact.  When the facts as pleaded by the parties are disputed or contested, proceedings for summary judgment cannot take the place of trial.  From the foregoing, it is apparent that the trial court should have refrained from issuing the summary judgment but instead proceeded to conduct a full blown trial of the case.  In view of this, the present case should be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings and proper disposition according to the rudiments of a regular trial on the merits and not through an abbreviated termination of the case by summary judgment.  Atty. Pedro M.  Ferrer vs. Spouses Alfredo Diaz, et al., G.R. No. 165300, April 23, 2010.

Judgments; summary judgment; when proper.  Section 1, Rule 35 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

Section 1.  Summary Judgment for claimant. - A party seeking to recover upon a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim or to obtain a declaratory relief may, at any time after the pleading in answer thereto has been served, move with supporting affidavits, depositions or admissions for a summary judgment in his favor upon all or any part thereof.

Summary judgment has been explained as follows:

Summary judgment is a procedural device resorted to in order to avoid long drawn out litigations and useless delays.  When the pleadings on file show that there are no genuine issues of fact to be tried, the Rules allow a party to obtain immediate relief by way of summary judgment, that is, when the facts are not in dispute, the court is allowed to decide the case summarily by applying the law to the material facts.  Conversely, where the pleadings tender a genuine issue, summary judgment is not proper.  A “genuine issue” is such issue of fact which requires the presentation of evidence as distinguished from a sham, fictitious, contrived or false claim.  Section 3 of the said rule provides two (2) requisites for summary judgment to be proper: (1) there must be no genuine issue as to any material fact, except for the amount of damages; and (2) the party presenting the motion for summary judgment must be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  A summary judgment is permitted only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and a moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  A summary judgment is proper if, while the pleadings on their face appear to raise issues, the affidavits, depositions, and admissions presented by the moving party show that such issues are not genuine.

Since we have limited the issues to the damages claimed by the parties, summary judgment has been properly rendered in this case.  Manuel Bungcayao, Sr., et al. vs. Fort Ilocandia Property Holdings and Development Corporation, G.R. No. 170483, April 19, 2010.

Judgments; true intent and meaning obtained by reading decision in its entirety.  We find that the petitioners misread the ruling in Nazareno v. Court of Appeals when they understood the ruling to mean that in all cases, a declaration of ownership does not include a declaration of the right to possession. What Nazareno actually holds is that adjudication of ownership would include the delivery of possession if the defeated party has not shown any right to possess the land independently of his rejected claim of ownership.  This ruling, as understood in its correct sense, fully applies to the present case, as there is no allegation, much less any proof, that the petitioners have any right to possess the improvements on the land independently of their claim of ownership of the subject property.  Thus, the respondents have full right to possession of the subject property.   We remind the petitioners that we do not allow the piecemeal interpretation of our Decision as a means to advance one’s case. To get the true intent and meaning of a decision, no specific portion thereof should be isolated and read in this context; the decision must be considered in its entirety.  Read in this manner, the respondents’ right to possession of the subject property fully follows.  Narciso Tumibay, et al. vs. Sps. Yolanda T. Sora, et al., G.R. No. 152016, April 13, 2010.

Jurisdiction; court acquires no jurisdiction over permissive counterclaim for non-payment of docket fees. The rule in permissive counterclaim is that for the trial court to acquire jurisdiction, the counterclaimant is bound to pay the prescribed docket fees.  Any decision rendered without jurisdiction is a total nullity and may be struck down at any time, even on appeal before this Court.  In this case, respondent did not dispute the non-payment of docket fees.  Respondent only insisted that its claims were all compulsory counterclaims.  As such, the judgment by the trial court in relation to the second counterclaim is considered null and void without prejudice to a separate action which respondent may file against petitioner.  Manuel Bungcayao, Sr., et al. vs. Fort Ilocandia Property Holdings and Development Corporation, G.R. No. 170483, April 19, 2010.

Jurisdiction; Court of Appeals has certiorari and appellate jurisdiction over adjudications of National Water Resources Board.  Since the appellate court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over quasi-judicial agencies under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, petitions for writs of certiorari, prohibition or mandamus against the acts and omissions of quasi-judicial agencies, like petitioner, should be filed with it.  This is what Rule 65 of the Rules imposes for procedural uniformity.  The only exception to this instruction is when the law or the Rules itself directs otherwise, as cited in Section 4, Rule 65. The appellate court’s construction that Article 89 of PD 1067, which reads:

ART. 89.              The decisions of the [NWRB] on water rights controversies may be appealed to the [RTC] of the province where the subject matter of the controversy is situated within fifteen (15) days from the date the party appealing receives a copy of the decision, on any of the following grounds: (1) grave abuse of discretion; (2) question of law; and (3) questions of fact and law (emphasis and underscoring supplied),

is such an exception, is erroneous.  Article 89 of PD 1067 had long been rendered inoperative by the passage of BP 129.  Aside from delineating the jurisdictions of the Court of Appeals and the RTCs, Section 47 of BP 129 repealed or modified:

x x x. [t]he provisions of Republic Act No. 296, otherwise known as the Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended, of Republic Act No. 5179, as amended, of the Rules of Court, and of all other statutes, letters of instructions and general orders or parts thereof, inconsistent with the provisions of this Act x x x. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The general repealing clause under Section 47 “predicates the intended repeal under the condition that a substantial conflict must be found in existing and prior acts.”

In enacting BP 129, the Batasang Pambansa was presumed to have knowledge of the provision of Article 89 of P.D. No. 1067 and to have intended to change it.  The legislative intent to repeal Article 89 is clear and manifest given the scope and purpose of BP 129, one of which is to provide a homogeneous procedure for the review of adjudications of quasi-judicial entities to the Court of Appeals.  More importantly, what Article 89 of PD 1067 conferred to the RTC was the power of review on appeal the decisions of petitioner.  It appears that the appellate court gave significant consideration to the ground of “grave abuse of discretion” to thus hold that the RTC has certiorari jurisdiction over petitioner’s decisions.  A reading of said Article 89 shows, however, that it only made “grave abuse of discretion” as another ground to invoke in an ordinary appeal to the RTC.  Indeed, the provision was unique to the Water Code at the time of its application in 1976.  The issuance of BP 129, specifically Section 9 (Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals, then known as Intermediate Appellate Court), and the subsequent formulation of the Rules, clarified and delineated the appellate and certiorari jurisdictions of the Court of Appeals over adjudications of quasi-judicial bodies.  Grave abuse of discretion may be invoked before the appellate court as a ground for an error of jurisdiction.

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

While Section 9 (3) of BP 129 and Section 1 of Rule 43 of the Rules of Court does not list petitioner as “among” the quasi-judicial agencies whose final judgments, orders, resolutions or awards are appealable to the appellate court, it is non sequitur to hold that the Court of Appeals has no appellate jurisdiction over petitioner’s judgments, orders, resolutions or awards.  It is settled that the list of quasi-judicial agencies specifically mentioned in Rule 43 is not meant to be exclusive.  The employment of the word “among” clearly instructs so.

BF Northwest Homeowners Association v. Intermediate Appellate Court, a 1987 case cited by the appellate court to support its ruling that RTCs have jurisdiction over judgments, orders, resolutions or awards of petitioner, is no longer controlling in light of the definitive instruction of Rule 43 of the Revised Rules of Court.

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

In fine, certiorari and appellate jurisdiction over adjudications of petitioner properly belongs to the Court of Appeals.  National Water Resources Board (NWRB) vs. A.L. Ang Network, Inc., G.R. No. 186450, April 14, 2010.

Jurisdiction; determined by allegations of the complaint.  Designed to provide an expeditious means of protecting actual possession or the right to possession of the property involved, there can be no gainsaying the fact that ejectment cases fall within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of first level courts by express provision of Section 33 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, in relation to Sec. 1, Rule 70 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.  In addition to being conferred by law, however, a court’s jurisdiction over the subject matter is determined by the allegations of the complaint and the character of the relief sought, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover all or some of the claims asserted therein.  In much the same way that it cannot be made to depend on the exclusive characterization of the case by one of the parties, jurisdiction cannot be made to depend upon the defenses set up in the answer, in a motion to dismiss or in a motion for reconsideration. Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Jurisdiction; enumeration of quasi-judicial agencies in Rule 43 is not exclusive. While Section 9 (3) of BP 129 and Section 1 of Rule 43 of the Rules of Court does not list petitioner as “among” the quasi-judicial agencies whose final judgments, orders, resolutions or awards are appealable to the appellate court, it is non sequitur to hold that the Court of Appeals has no appellate jurisdiction over petitioner’s judgments, orders, resolutions or awards.  It is settled that the list of quasi-judicial agencies specifically mentioned in Rule 43 is not meant to be exclusive.  The employment of the word “among” clearly instructs so.  National Water Resources Board (NWRB) vs. A.L. Ang Network, Inc., G.R. No. 186450, April 14, 2010.

Jurisdiction; lack of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of proceedings; void judgment. The general rule is that dismissal of a case for lack of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceedings since jurisdiction is conferred by law. The lack of jurisdiction affects the very authority of the court to take cognizance of and to render judgment on the action; otherwise, the inevitable consequence would make the court’s decision a “lawless” thing.  Since the RTC has no jurisdiction over the complaint filed, all the proceedings as well as the Decision of 17 June 2002 are void. The complaint should perforce be dismissed.  Sps. Joselina Alcantara and Antonio Alcantara, et al. vs. Brigida L. Nido, as attorney-in-fact of Revelen Srivastava, G.R. No. 165133, April 19, 2010.

Jurisdiction; MTC jurisdiction over ejectment case.  Section 33 of Batas Pambansa Bilang 129, as amended by Republic Act No. 7691 provides:

Section 33. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Civil Cases. – Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

x x x

(3) Exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions which involve title to, possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses and costs: x x x

In Geonzon Vda. de Barrera v. Heirs of Vicente Legaspi, the Court explained:

Before the amendments introduced by Republic Act No. 7691, the plenary action of accion publiciana was to be brought before the regional trial court. With the modifications introduced by R.A. No. 7691 in 1994, the jurisdiction of the first level courts has been expanded to include jurisdiction over other real actions where the assessed value does not exceed P20,000, P50,000 where the action is filed in Metro Manila. The first level courts thus have exclusive original jurisdiction over accion publiciana and accion reivindicatoria where the assessed value of the real property does not exceed the aforestated amounts. Accordingly, the jurisdictional element is the assessed value of the property.

Assessed value is understood to be “the worth or value of property established by taxing authorities on the basis of which the tax rate is applied. Commonly, however, it does not represent the true or market value of the property.”

The appellate court correctly ruled that even if the complaint filed with the RTC involves a question of ownership, the MTC still has jurisdiction because the assessed value of the whole lot as stated in Tax Declaration No. 09-0742 is P4,890.  The MTC cannot be deprived of jurisdiction over an ejectment case based merely on the assertion of ownership over the litigated property, and the underlying reason for this rule is to prevent any party from trifling with the summary nature of an ejectment suit.  Sps. Joselina Alcantara and Antonio Alcantara, et al. vs. Brigida L. Nido, as attorney-in-fact of Revelen Srivastava, G.R. No. 165133, April 19, 2010.

Motions; motion for issuance of alias summons is non-litigious in nature.  Incidentally, the Motion for Issuance of Alias Summons filed by PCI Leasing is non-litigious in nature, which does not require a hearing under the Rules, as the same could have been acted upon by the RTC without prejudicing the rights of the respondents. All facts necessary for the determination of the motion are already specified therein or a matter of record and there was yet no adverse party to dispute the same as the court had not even acquired jurisdiction over the person of the respondents.  It was serious error on the part of the trial court to have denied the first motion for issuance of alias summons for want of notice of hearing.  It was also not mandatory for the trial court to set the second motion for hearing.  PCI Leasing and Finance, Inc. vs. Antonio C. Milan, et al., G.R. No. 151215, April 5, 2010.

Parties; action for reversion of public land can be instituted only by State.  In her Comment, private respondent asserts that petitioners have no personality to question the validity of the sales patent and the original certificate of title issued in her name. She maintains that only the government, through the [Office of the Solicitor General], may file an action for reversion on the ground of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. As to the second issue, private respondent claims that petitioners’ annulment suit has prescribed pursuant to Section of Presidential Decree No. 1529.  At the outset, we must point out that petitioners’ complaint questioning the validity of the sales patent and the original certificate of title over Lot No. 47 is, in reality, a reversion suit. The objective of an action for reversion of public land is the cancellation of the certificate of title and the resulting reversion of the land covered by the title to the State. This is why an action for reversion is oftentimes designated as an annulment suit or a cancellation suit.

Coming now to the first issue, Section 101 of the Public Land Act clearly states:

SEC. 101. All actions for the reversion to the Government of lands of the public domain or improvements thereon shall be instituted by the Solicitor General or the officer acting in his stead, in the proper courts, in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.

Even assuming that private respondent indeed acquired title to Lot No. 47 in bad faith, only the State can institute reversion proceedings, pursuant to Section 101 of the Public Land Act and our ruling in Alvarico v. Sola. Private persons may not bring an action for reversion or any action which would have the effect of canceling a land patent and the corresponding certificate of title issued on the basis of the patent, such that the land covered thereby will again form part of the public domain.  Only the OSG or the officer acting in his stead may do so. Since the title originated from a grant by the government, its cancellation is a matter between the grantor and the grantee.  Similarly, in Urquiaga v. CA, this Court held that there is no need to pass upon any allegation of actual fraud in the acquisition of a title based on a sales patent. Private persons have no right or interest over land considered public at the time the sales application was filed. They have no personality to question the validity of the title. We further stated that granting, for the sake of argument, that fraud was committed in obtaining the title, it is the State, in a reversion case, which is the proper party to file the necessary action.

In this case, it is clear that Lot No. 47 was public land when Andrada filed the sales patent application. Any subsequent action questioning the validity of the award of sales patent on the ground of fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation should thus be initiated by the State. The State has not done so and thus, we have to uphold the validity and regularity of the sales patent as well as the corresponding original certificate of title issued based on the patent.  Vicente Cawis, etc., et al. vs. Hon. Antonio Cerilles, et al., G.R. No. 170207, April 19, 2010.

Parties; class suit; adequacy of representation.  Indeed, in MVRS Publications, Inc. v. Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Inc., we observed that an element of a class suit or representative suit is the adequacy of representation.  In determining the question of fair and adequate representation of members of a class, the court must consider (a) whether the interest of the named party is coextensive with the interest of the other members of the class; (b) the proportion of those made a party, as it so bears, to the total membership of the class; and (c) any other factor bearing on the ability of the named party to speak for the rest of the class. Previously, we held in Ibañes v. Roman Catholic Church that where the interests of the plaintiffs and the other members of the class they seek to represent are diametrically opposed, the class suit will not prosper.  It is worth mentioning that a Manifestation of Desistance, to which the previously mentioned Affidavit of Desistance was attached, was filed by the President of the National Printing Office Workers Association (NAPOWA).  The said manifestation expressed NAPOWA’s opposition to the filing of the instant petition in any court.  Even if we take into account the contention of petitioners’ counsel that the NAPOWA President had no legal standing to file such manifestation, the said pleading is a clear indication that there is a divergence of opinions and views among the members of the class sought to be represented, and not all are in favor of filing the present suit.  There is here an apparent conflict between petitioners’ interests and those of the persons whom they claim to represent.  Since it cannot be said that petitioners sufficiently represent the interests of the entire class, the instant case cannot be properly treated as a class suit.  Atty. Sylvia Banda, et al. vs.. Eduardo R. Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 166620, April 20, 2010.

Parties; class suit; requisites.  Before proceeding to resolve the substantive issues, the Court must first delve into a procedural matter. Since petitioners instituted this case as a class suit, the Court, thus, must first determine if the petition indeed qualifies as one.  In Board of Optometry v. Colet, we held that “[c]ourts must exercise utmost caution before allowing a class suit, which is the exception to the requirement of joinder of all indispensable parties.  For while no difficulty may arise if the decision secured is favorable to the plaintiffs, a quandary would result if the decision were otherwise as those who were deemed impleaded by their self-appointed representatives would certainly claim denial of due process.”  Section 12, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court defines a class suit, as follows:

Sec. 12. Class suit. – When the subject matter of the controversy is one of common or general interest to many persons so numerous that it is impracticable to join all as parties, a number of them which the court finds to be sufficiently numerous and representative as to fully protect the interests of all concerned may sue or defend for the benefit of all. Any party in interest shall have the right to intervene to protect his individual interest.

From the foregoing definition, the requisites of a class suit are:  1) the subject matter of controversy is one of common or general interest to many persons; 2) the parties affected are so numerous that it is impracticable to bring them all to court; and 3) the parties bringing the class suit are sufficiently numerous or representative of the class and can fully protect the interests of all concerned.  In Mathay v. The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, the Court held that:

An action does not become a class suit merely because it is designated as such in the pleadings. Whether the suit is or is not a class suit depends upon the attending facts, and the complaint, or other pleading initiating the class action should allege the existence of the necessary facts, to wit, the existence of a subject matter of common interest, and the existence of a class and the number of persons in the alleged class, in order that the court might be enabled to determine whether the members of the class are so numerous as to make it impracticable to bring them all before the court, to contrast the number appearing on the record with the number in the class and to determine whether claimants on record adequately represent the class and the subject matter of general or common interest. (Emphases ours.)

Here, the petition failed to state the number of [National Printing Office] employees who would be affected by the assailed Executive Order and who were allegedly represented by petitioners.  It was the Solicitor General, as counsel for respondents, who pointed out that there were about 549 employees in the NPO.  The 67 petitioners undeniably comprised a small fraction of the NPO employees whom they claimed to represent.  Subsequently, 32 of the original petitioners executed an Affidavit of Desistance, while one signed a letter denying ever signing the petition, ostensibly reducing the number of petitioners to 34.  We note that counsel for the petitioners challenged the validity of the desistance or withdrawal of some of the petitioners and insinuated that such desistance was due to pressure from people “close to the seat of power.”  Still, even if we were to disregard the affidavit of desistance filed by some of the petitioners, it is highly doubtful that a sufficient, representative number of NPO employees have instituted this purported class suit.  A perusal of the petition itself would show that of the 67 petitioners who signed the Verification/Certification of Non-Forum Shopping, only 20 petitioners were in fact mentioned in the jurat as having duly subscribed the petition before the notary public.  In other words, only 20 petitioners effectively instituted the present case.  Atty. Sylvia Banda, et al. vs.. Eduardo R. Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 166620, April 20, 2010.

Parties; personality to file petition.  As to respondents’ claim that petitioner Republic of the Philippines was not a party to the civil case subject of this petition since Administrator Quindoza was the sole defendant therein and, thus,  has no personality to file this petition, their claim is not persuasive. Notably, Administrator Quindoza was sued for damages for certain acts that he allegedly committed while he was the Zone Administrator of the Bataan Export Processing Zone.  Therefore, the complaint is in the nature of suit against the State, and the Republic has the personality to file the petition.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Coalbrine International Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 161838, April 7, 2010.

Parties; real parties in interest. Notably, respondent Neri signed the verification/certification as one of the plaintiffs.  However, we find that respondent Neri is not a real party-in- interest.  Section 2, Rule 3 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

SEC. 2. Parties-in interest. – A real party-in-interest is the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit. Unless otherwise authorized by law or these Rules, every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party-in-interest.

And “interest,” within the meaning of the rule, means material interest, an interest in issue and to be affected by the decree, as distinguished from mere interest in the question involved, or a mere incidental interest.  Cases construing the real party-in-interest provision can be more easily understood if it is borne in mind that the true meaning of real party-in-interest may be summarized as follows:  An action shall be prosecuted in the name of the party who, by the substantive law, has the right sought to be enforced.  The RTC based its conclusion that respondent Neri had a cause of action against petitioner on the allegations in the complaint. The CA, however, did not rule on the matter despite the fact that it was raised in petitioner’s petition for certiorari filed before it and merely said that there was no necessity to discuss such issue after deciding the other grounds raised in the petition.  We find the RTC in error.  A reading of the allegations in the complaint shows that the acts complained of and said to have been committed by petitioner against respondents have solely affected the hotel’s operations where respondent Neri was the hotel’s Managing Director and whose interest in the suit was incidental. Thus, we find that respondent Neri has no cause of action against petitioner. Consequently, the plaintiff in this case would only be respondent Coalbrine.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Coalbrine International Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 161838, April 7, 2010.

Parties; real parties in interest.  In G.R. No. 130876, the Court found that the petitioners did not validly acquire ownership of Lot No. 727-D-2, and declared that Lot No. 727 D-2 legally belonged to the Government, thus:

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The pronouncement in G.R. No. 130876 renders beyond dispute that the non-execution of the judgment would not adversely affect the petitioners, who now hold no right whatsoever in Lot No. 727-D-2. Otherwise put, they are not the proper parties to assail the questioned orders of the RTC, because they stand to derive nothing from the execution of the judgment against Cebu Country Club.  Every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest, unless otherwise authorized by law or the rules. A real party in interest is one who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit.  “Interest” within the meaning of the rule means material interest, an interest in issue and to be affected by the decree, as distinguished from mere interest in the question involved, or a mere incidental interest. The rule refers to a real or present substantial interest, as distinguished from a mere expectancy; or from a future, contingent, subordinate, or consequential interest. One having no right or interest to protect cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the court as a party-plaintiff in an action.  Thus, an appeal, like this one, is an action to be prosecuted by a party in interest before a higher court. In order for the appeal to prosper, the litigant must of necessity continue to hold a real or present substantial interest that entitles him to the avails of the suit on appeal. If he does not, the appeal, as to him, is an exercise in futility. So it is with the petitioners!

In contrast, the Government, being the legal owner of Lot No. 727-D-2, is the only party adversely affected by the denial, and is the proper party entitled to assail the denial.  However, its manifest desistance from the execution of the decision effectively barred any challenge against the denial, for its non-appeal rendered the denial final and immutable.  Francisco Alonso, et al. vs. Cebu Country Club, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 188471, April 20, 2010.

Parties; real party in interest in action for annulment of certificates of title. Section 2, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court states:

Sec. 2. Parties in interest. – A real party in interest is the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit.  Unless otherwise authorized by law or these Rules, every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest.

This provision has two requirements: 1) to institute an action, the plaintiff must be the real party in interest; and 2) the action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.  Interest within the meaning of the Rules of Court means material interest or an interest in issue to be affected by the decree or judgment of the case, as distinguished from mere curiosity about the question involved.  One having no material interest to protect cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the court as the plaintiff in an action.  When the plaintiff is not the real party in interest, the case is dismissible on the ground of lack of cause of action.  An action for annulment of certificates of title to property into the issue of ownership of the land covered by a Torrens title and the relief generally prayed for by the plaintiff is to be declared as the land’s true owner.  The real party in interest in such action therefore is the person claiming title or ownership adverse to that of the registered owner. The case of Tankiko v. Cezar has illustrated for us the application of this principle in the following manner:

It is evident that respondents are not the real parties in interest.  Because they admit that they are not the owners of the land but mere applicants for sales patents thereon, it is daylight clear that the land is public in character and that it should revert to the State. This being the case, Section 101 of the Public Land Act categorically declares that only the government may institute an action to recover ownership of a public land.

x  x  x  x

Under Section 2, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court, every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest.  It further defines a “real party in interest” as one who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit.  x  x  x  The interest of the party must be personal and not one based on a desire to vindicate the constitutional right of some third and unrelated party.

Clearly, a suit filed by a person who is not a party in interest must be dismissed. Thus, in Lucas v. Durian, the Court affirmed the dismissal of a Complaint filed by a party who alleged that the patent was obtained by fraudulent means and, consequently, prayed for the annulment of said patent and the cancellation of a certificate of title.  The Court declared that the proper party to bring the action was the government, to which the property would revert. Likewise affirming the dismissal of a Complaint  for  failure to  state a cause of action,  the  Court in  Nebrada v. Heirs of Alivio noted that the plaintiff, being a mere homestead applicant,  was not the real party in interest to institute an action for reconveyance.

x  x  x  x

Verily, the Court stressed that “if the suit is not brought in the name of or against the real party in interest, a motion to dismiss may be filed on the ground that the complaint states no cause of action.” [Emphasis supplied.]

The petitioners demand the annulment of respondent Catlys’ titles because they allege that these included portions belonging to the Municipality of Calapan.  This allegation is a clear recognition of the Municipality’s superior interest over the lot.  In instituting the action for annulment of respondent Catlys’ titles, what the petitioners are asserting is a right that is not personal to them, but to that of the local government.  That they are lessees who were granted by the Municipality of Calapan the option to purchase the portion they occupy does not suffice to constitute as parties with material interest to commence the action.  Nemesio Goco, et al. vs. Honorable Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 157449, April 6, 2010.

Parties; standing, relaxation of rule.  The respondents likewise allege that the petitioners had failed to show that they had sustained, or is in danger of sustaining any substantial injury as a result of the implementation of Republic Act No. 9716.  The respondents, therefore, conclude that the petitioners lack the required legal standing to question the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 9716.  This Court has paved the way away from procedural debates when confronted with issues that, by reason of constitutional importance, need a direct focus of the arguments on their content and substance.  The Supreme Court has, on more than one occasion, tempered the application of procedural rules, as well as relaxed the requirement of locus standi whenever confronted with an important issue of overreaching significance to society.

Hence, in Del Mar v. Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Jaworski v. PAGCOR, this Court sanctioned momentary deviation from the principle of the hierarchy of courts, and took original cognizance of cases raising issues of paramount public importance.  The Jaworski case ratiocinates:

Granting arguendo that the present action cannot be properly treated as a petition for prohibition, the transcendental importance of the issues involved in this case warrants that we set aside the technical defects and take primary jurisdiction over the petition at bar. One cannot deny that the issues raised herein have potentially pervasive influence on the social and moral well being of this nation, specially the youth; hence, their proper and just determination is an imperative need. This is in accordance with the well-entrenched principle that rules of procedure are not inflexible tools designed to hinder or delay, but to facilitate and promote the administration of justice. Their strict and rigid application, which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate, rather than promote substantial justice, must always be eschewed. (Emphasis supplied)

Anent the locus standi requirement, this Court has already uniformly ruled in Kilosbayan v. Guingona, Tatad v. Executive Secretary, Chavez v. Public Estates Authority and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan v. Zamora, just to name a few, that absence of direct injury on the part of the party seeking judicial review may be excused when the latter is able to craft an issue of transcendental importance.  In Lim v. Executive Secretary, this Court held that in cases of transcendental importance, the cases must be settled promptly and definitely, and so, the standing requirements may be relaxed.  This liberal stance has been echoed in the more recent decision on Chavez v. Gonzales.

Given the weight of the issue raised in the instant petition, the foregoing principles must apply.  The beaten path must be taken.  We go directly to the determination of whether or not a population of 250,000 is an indispensable constitutional requirement for the creation of a new legislative district in a province.  Senator Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and Mayor Jesse Robredo, G.R. No. 189793, April 7, 2010.

Pleadings; certification of non-forum shopping.  The Court has consistently held that the requirement regarding verification of a pleading is formal, not jurisdictional.  Such requirement is simply a condition affecting the form of the pleading, non-compliance with which does not necessarily render the pleading fatally defective.  Verification is simply intended to secure an assurance that the allegations in the pleading are true and correct, and not the product of the imagination or a matter of speculation, and that the pleading is filed in good faith. The court may order the correction of the pleading if verification is lacking or act on the pleading although it is not verified, if the attending circumstances are such that strict compliance with the rules may be dispensed with in order that the ends of justice may thereby be served.  On the other hand, the lack of certification against non-forum shopping is generally not curable by mere amendment of the complaint, but shall be a cause for the dismissal of the case without prejudice.  The same rule applies to certifications against non-forum shopping signed by a person on behalf of a corporation which are unaccompanied by proof that said signatory is authorized to file the complaint on behalf of the corporation.  In Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP), we ruled that only individuals vested with authority by a valid board resolution may sign the certificate of non-forum shopping on behalf of a corporation. We also required that proof of such authority must be attached.  Failure to provide a certificate of non-forum shopping is sufficient ground to dismiss the petition. Likewise, the petition is subject to dismissal if a certification was submitted unaccompanied by proof of signatory’s authority.  While there were instances where we have allowed the filing of a certificate against non-forum shopping by someone on behalf of a corporation without the accompanying proof of authority at the time of its filing, we did so on the basis of a special circumstance or compelling reason. Moreover, there was a subsequent compliance by the submission of the proof of authority attesting to the fact that the person who signed the certification was duly authorized.

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

In the present case, the RTC, in denying petitioner’s motion to dismiss the complaint when the latter raised respondent Neri’s lack of authority to sign the certification, found that respondent Neri testified that she was the Managing Director of the Bataan Hilltop Hotel which was being leased by respondent Coalbrine, and that she was authorized by the Corporate Secretary to file the case.  Notably, while the matter of lack of authority was raised by petitioner in its petition for certiorari filed with the CA, it chose not to tackle the issue after disposing of the other issues raised therein.

We cannot agree with the RTC’s reasoning and find the certification signed by respondent Neri to be defective.   The authority of respondent Neri to file the complaint in the RTC had not been proven.  First, the certification against non-forum shopping did not even contain a statement that she was authorized by the corporate secretary to file the case on behalf of Coalbrine as she claimed.  More importantly, while she testified that she was authorized by the corporate secretary,  there was no showing that there was a valid board resolution authorizing the corporate secretary to file the action, and to authorize respondent Neri to file the action.  In fact, such proof of authority had not been submitted even belatedly to show subsequent compliance.  Thus, there was no reason for the relaxation of the rule.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Coalbrine International Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 161838, April 7, 2010.

Pleadings; certification on non-forum shopping. The second violation concerns the omission of a sworn certification against forum shopping from the petition for review on certiorari. Section 4, Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the petition for review should contain, among others, the sworn certification on the undertakings provided in the last paragraph of Section 2, Rule 42 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, viz:

Section 2. xxx

The petitioner shall also submit together with the petition a certification under oath that he has not theretofore commenced any other action involving the same issues in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or different divisions thereof, or any other tribunal or agency; if there is such other action or proceeding, he must state the status of the same; and if he should thereafter learn that a similar action or proceeding has been filed or is pending before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, or different divisions thereof, or any other tribunal or agency, he undertakes to promptly inform the aforesaid courts and other tribunal or agency thereof within five (5) days therefrom. (n)

Only petitioner Tomas V. Alonso has executed and signed the sworn certification against forum shopping attached to the petition. Although neither of his co-petitioners  Mercedes V. Alonso and Asuncion V. Alonso has joined the certification, Tomas did not present any written express authorization in his favor authorizing him to sign the certification in their behalf. The signing of the certification by only one of the petitioners could not be presumed to reflect the personal knowledge by his co-petitioners of the filing or non-filing of any similar action or claim.  Hence, the failure of Mercedes and Asuncion to sign and execute the certification along with Tomas warranted the dismissal of their petition.  Francisco Alonso, et al. vs. Cebu Country Club, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 188471, April 20, 2010.

Pleadings; certification of non-forum shopping; substantial compliance through subsequent submission.  Unquestionably, there is sufficient jurisprudential basis to hold that Landheights has substantially complied with the verification and certification requirements.  We have held in a catena of cases with similar factual circumstances that there is substantial compliance with the Rules of Court when there is a belated submission or filing of the secretary’s certificate through a motion for reconsideration of the Court of Appeals’ decision dismissing the petition for certiorari.  In Ateneo de Naga University v. Manalo, this Court acknowledged that it has relaxed, under justifiable circumstances, the rule requiring the submission of these certifications and has applied the rule of substantial compliance under justifiable circumstances with respect to the contents of the certification. It also conceded that if this Court has allowed the belated filing of the certification against forum shopping for compelling reasons in previous rulings, with more reason should it sanction the timely submission of such certification though the proof of the signatory’s authority was submitted thereafter.  The Court is aware of the necessity for a certification of non-forum shopping in filing petitions for certiorari as this is required under Section 1, Rule 65, in relation to Section 3, Rule 46 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.  When the petitioner is a corporation, the certification should obviously be executed by a natural person to whom the power to execute such certification has been validly conferred by the corporate board of directors and/or duly authorized officers and agents.  Generally, the petition is subject to dismissal if a certification was submitted unaccompanied by proof of the signatory’s authority.  However, we must make a distinction between non-compliance with the requirements for certificate of non-forum shopping and verification and substantial compliance with the requirements as provided in the Rules of Court.  The Court has allowed the belated filing of the certification on the justification that such act constitutes substantial compliance.  In Roadway Express, Inc. v. CA, the Court allowed the filing of the certification fourteen (14) days before the dismissal of the petition.  In Uy v. Land Bank of the Philippines, the Court reinstated a petition on the ground of substantial compliance even though the verification and certification were submitted only after the petition had already been originally dismissed.  In Havtor Management Phils. Inc. v. NLRC, we acknowledged substantial compliance when the lacking secretary’s certificate was submitted by the petitioners as an attachment to the motion for reconsideration seeking reversal of the original decision dismissing the petition for its earlier failure to submit such requirement.  In the present case, Landheights rectified its failure to submit proof of Mr. Dickson Tan’s authority to sign the verification/certification on non-forum shopping on its behalf when the required document was subsequently submitted to the Court of Appeals.  The admission of these documents, and consequently, the reinstatement of the petition itself, is in line with the cases we have cited.  In such circumstances, we deem it more in accord with substantive justice that the case be decided on the merits.  Mediserv, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals (Special Former 13th Division), et al., G.R. No. 161368, April 5, 2010.

Pleadings; compulsory counterclaim distinguished from permissive counterclaim.  A compulsory counterclaim is any claim for money or any relief, which a defending party may have against an opposing party, which at the time of suit arises out of, or is necessarily connected with, the same transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the plaintiff’s complaint.  It is compulsory in the sense that it is within the jurisdiction of  the court, does not require for its adjudication the presence of third parties over whom the court cannot acquire jurisdiction, and will be barred in the future if not set up in the answer to the complaint in the same case.  Any other counterclaim is permissive.  The Court has ruled that the compelling test of compulsoriness characterizes a counterclaim as compulsory if there should exist a logical relationship between the main claim and the counterclaim.  The Court further ruled that there exists such a relationship when conducting separate trials of the respective claims of the parties would entail substantial duplication of time and effort by the parties and the court; when the multiple claims involve the same factual and legal issues; or when the claims are offshoots of the same basic controversy between the parties. The criteria to determine whether the counterclaim is compulsory or permissive are as follows:

(a) Are issues of fact and law raised by the claim and by the counterclaim largely the same?

(b) Would res judicata bar a subsequent suit on defendant’s claim, absent the compulsory rule?

(c) Will substantially the same evidence support or refute plaintiff’s claim as well as defendant’s counterclaim?

(d)  Is there any logical relations between the claim and the counterclaim?

A positive answer to all four questions would indicate that the counterclaim is compulsory.

In this case, the only issue in the complaint is whether Manuel, Jr. is authorized to sign the Deed of Assignment, Release, Waiver and Quitclaim in favor of respondent without petitioner’s express approval and authority.  In an Order dated 6 November 2003, the trial court confirmed the agreement of the parties to cancel the Deed of Assignment, Release, Waiver and Quitclaim and the return of P400,000 to respondent.  The only claim that remained was the claim for damages against respondent.  The trial court resolved this issue by holding that any damage suffered by Manuel, Jr. was personal to him.  The trial court ruled that petitioner could not have suffered any damage even if Manuel, Jr. entered into an agreement with respondent since the agreement was null and void.

Respondent filed three counterclaims.  The first was for recovery of the P400,000 given to Manuel, Jr.; the second was for recovery of possession of the subject property; and the third was for damages.  The first counterclaim was rendered moot with the issuance of the 6 November 2003 Order confirming the agreement of the parties to cancel the Deed of Assignment, Release, Waiver and Quitclaim and to return the P400,000 to respondent.  Respondent waived and renounced the third counterclaim for damages.  The only counterclaim that remained was for the recovery of possession of the subject property.  While this counterclaim was an offshoot of the same basic controversy between the parties, it is very clear that it will not be barred if not set up in the answer to the complaint in the same case.  Respondent’s second counterclaim, contrary to the findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals, is only a permissive counterclaim.  It is not a compulsory counterclaim.  It is capable of proceeding independently of the main case.  Manuel Bungcayao, Sr., et al. vs. Fort Ilocandia Property Holdings and Development Corporation, G.R. No. 170483, April 19, 2010.

Pleadings; explanation for service by registered mail; when omission excused.  As to the CA’s dismissal of the petition for review on the ground that petitioner failed to attach a written explanation for non-personal filing, the Court finds the same improper. Iligan City, where petitioner resides and where her counsel holds office, and Cagayan de Oro City, where the concerned division of the CA is stationed, are separated by a considerable distance. The CA, in the exercise of its discretion, should have realized that it was indeed impracticable for petitioner to personally file the petition for review in Cagayan De Oro City. Given the obvious time, effort and expense that would have been spent in the personal filing of the pleadings in this case, the written explanation why service had not been done personally, as required by Section 11 of Rule 13, may be considered as superfluous.   Alma B. Russel vs. Teofista Ebasan, et al.,G.R. No. 184542, April 23, 2010.

Pleadings; filing by registered mail; date of mailing considered date of filing.  Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was likewise filed on time.  She received a copy of the June 18, 2007 CA Resolution on July 18, 2007. Under Section 1 of Rule 52, she had 15 days from notice, or until August 2, 2007, to file a motion for reconsideration.  Petitioner filed by registered mail her motion for reconsideration on July 27, 2007. The fact of mailing on the said date is proven by the registry return receipt, the affidavit of service, and the certification of the Office of the Postmaster of Iligan City. Section 3, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court provides that if a pleading is filed by registered mail, then the date of mailing shall be considered as the date of filing.  It does not matter when the court actually receives the mailed pleading. Thus, in this case, as the pleading was filed by registered mail on July 27, 2007, within the reglementary period, it is inconsequential that the CA actually received the motion in October of that year.  Alma B. Russel vs. Teofista Ebasan, et al., G.R. No. 184542, April 23, 2010.

Pleadings; verification; defective verification excused.  Relative to the defective verification, the Court excuses the same. The purpose of the verification is to secure an assurance that the allegations in the petition have been made in good faith, or are true and correct and not merely speculative. The requirement is simply a condition affecting the form of pleadings and non-compliance therewith is neither jurisdictional nor does it render the pleading fatally defective.  Here, the perceived defect is excusable and does not justify a dismissal of the petition. In any case, petitioner, in her subsequent pleading, submitted a corrected verification. The same degree of liberality should apply to petitioner’s failure to attach a copy of the complaint and answer filed before the MTCC in her petition for review. After all, petitioner substantially complied with the requirement when she filed her amended petition.  Alma B. Russel vs. Teofista Ebasan, et al., G.R. No. 184542, April 23, 2010.

Pleadings; verification; substantial compliance.  Contrary to respondents’ assertion, NHA’s verification conforms to the rule. Section 4, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court states:

SEC. 4. Verification. – Except when otherwise specifically required by law or rule, pleadings need not be under oath, verified or accompanied  by affidavit.

A pleading is verified by an affidavit that the affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct of his personal knowledge or based on authentic records.

A pleading required to be verified which contains a verification based on “information and belief,” or upon “knowledge, information and belief,” or lacks a proper verification, shall be treated as an unsigned pleading.

The reason for requiring verification in the petition is to secure an assurance that the allegations of a pleading are true and correct; are not speculative or merely imagined; and have been made in good faith.  To achieve this purpose, the verification of a pleading is made through an affidavit or sworn statement confirming that the affiant has read the pleading whose allegations are true and correct of the affiant’s personal knowledge or based on authentic records.

The General Manager of NHA verified the petition as follows:

3. I have read the allegations contained therein and that the same are true and correct to the best of my own personal knowledge.

A reading of the above verification reveals nothing objectionable about it.  The affiant confirmed that he had read the allegations in the petition which were true and correct based on his personal knowledge.  The addition of the words “to the best” before the phrase “of my personal knowledge” did not violate the requirement under Section 4 of Rule 7, it being sufficient that the affiant declared that the allegations in the petition are true and correct based on his personal knowledge.  National Housing Authority vs. Augusto Basa, Jr., Luz Basa and Eduardo S. Basa, G.R. No. 149121, April 20, 2010.

Pleadings; verification and certification of non-forum shopping; substantial compliance by subsequent submission.  Under Rule 46, Section 3, paragraph 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, petitions for certiorari must be verified and accompanied by a sworn certification of non-forum shopping.  The primary question that has to be resolved in this case is whether the verification and certification of non-forum shopping, erroneously signed by counsel, may be cured by subsequent compliance.  Generally, subsequent compliance with the requirement of a certification of non-forum shopping does not excuse a party from failure to comply in the first instance.  A certification of the plaintiff’s counsel will not suffice for the reason that it is the petitioner, and not the counsel, who is in the best position to know whether he actually filed or caused the filing of a petition.  A certification against forum shopping signed by counsel is a defective certification that is equivalent to non-compliance with the requirement and constitutes a valid cause for the dismissal of the petition.  However, there are instances when we treated compliance with the rule with relative liberality, especially when there are circumstances or compelling reasons making the strict application of the rule clearly unjustified.  In the case of Far Eastern Shipping Company v. Court of Appeals, while we said that, strictly, a certification against forum shopping by counsel is a defective certification, the verification, signed by petitioner’s counsel in said case, is substantial compliance inasmuch as it served the purpose of the Rules of informing the Court of the pendency of another action or proceeding involving the same issues. We then explained that procedural rules are instruments in the speedy and efficient administration of justice which should be used to achieve such end and not to derail it.  In Sy Chin v. Court of Appeals, we categorically stated that while the petition was flawed as the certification of non-forum shopping was signed only by counsel and not by the party, such procedural lapse may be overlooked in the interest of substantial justice.  Finally, the Court has also on occasion held that the party need not sign the verification; a party’s representative, lawyer or any person who personally knows the truth of the facts alleged in the pleading may sign the verification.

Here, the verification and certification of non-forum shopping was signed by petitioner’s counsel.  Upon receipt of the resolution of the Court of Appeals dismissing her petition for non-compliance with the rules, petitioner submitted, together with her motion for reconsideration, a verification and certification signed by her in compliance with the said rule.  We deem this to be sufficient compliance especially in view of the merits of the case, which may be considered as a special circumstance or a compelling reason that would justify tempering the hard consequence of the procedural requirement on non-forum shopping.  Krizia Katrina Ty-De Zuzuarregui vs. The Hon. Joselito C. Villanueva, et al., G.R. No. 183788, April 5, 2010.

Procedural rules; abuse of judicial process.  We lament that the petitioners, by instituting the present petition, has effectively delayed the full execution of the final and executory RTC judgment. In doing so, they deprived the winning respondents of the fruits of the judgment, and made a mockery of the RTC judgment that has stood scrutiny all the way to our level. We have always frowned upon any scheme to prolong litigations and we view the present dispute as an unwarranted effort to avoid the implementation of a judgment painstakingly arrived at. We cannot countenance, and in fact, condemn this kind of abuse of judicial process. Thus, we deem it fit to impose treble costs against the petitioners.  Narciso Tumibay, et al. vs. Sps. Yolanda T. Sora, et al., G.R. No. 152016, April 13, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal application.  Facing up to all these objections and admitting the mistakes committed, the Gos beseech liberality in the application of the rules.  Even if clearly their counsel committed a number of palpable mistakes which, as a general rule should bind the client, we shall grant the petition in the interest of justice.  Our rules of procedure are designed to facilitate the orderly disposition of cases and permit the prompt disposition of unmeritorious cases which clog the court dockets and do little more than waste the courts’ time. These technical and procedural rules, however, are intended to ensure, rather than suppress, substantial justice.  A deviation from their rigid enforcement may thus be allowed, as petitioners should be given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of their case, rather than lose their property on mere technicalities.  We held in Ong Lim Sing, Jr. v. FEB Leasing and Finance Corporation that:

Courts have the prerogative to relax procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to speedily put an end to litigation and the parties’ right to due process. In numerous cases, this Court has allowed liberal construction of the rules when to do so would serve the demands of substantial justice and equity.

Trinidad Go, et al. vs. Vicente Velez Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 182341, April 23, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal construction.  It is settled that liberal construction of the rules may be invoked in situations where there may be some excusable formal deficiency or error in a pleading, provided that the same does not subvert the essence of the proceeding and connotes at least a reasonable attempt at compliance with the rules. After all, rules of procedure are not to be applied in a very rigid, technical sense; they are used only to help secure substantial justice.  Mediserv, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals (Special Former 13th Division), et al. G.R. No. 161368, April 5, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal application.  In sum, the Court finds that the CA erred in dismissing petitioner’s appeal. The appellate court should have been more prudent in computing the reglementary period for the filing of petitions. The CA could have been more liberal in the application of the Rules considering that, in this case, the MTCC and the RTC arrived at conflicting rulings, necessitating a thorough review of the merits of the case. This is in keeping with the principle that rules of procedure are mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice and that strict and rigid application of rules which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice must always be avoided. It is a far better and wiser course of action for the Court to excuse a technical lapse and afford the parties a conscientious review of the case in order to attain the ends of justice, rather than dispose of it on a technicality and cause grave injustice to the parties, giving a false impression of speedy disposal of cases which actually results in more delay, if not in an outright miscarriage of justice.  Alma B. Russel vs. Teofista Ebasan, et al.,G.R. No. 184542, April 23, 2010.

Temporary restraining order.  Until the propriety of granting an injunction, temporary or perpetual, is determined, the court (i.e., the RTC in this case) may issue a temporary restraining order.  A TRO is an interlocutory order or writ issued by the court as a restraint on the defendant until the propriety of granting an injunction can be determined, thus going no further in its operation than to preserve the status quo until that determination.  A TRO is not intended to operate as an injunction pendente lite, and should not in effect determine the issues involved before the parties can have their day in court.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010.

Trial; requirement of impartial judge.  Citing the foregoing as basis, the accused argues that Judge Jesus Carbon, Jr. displayed his hostility towards him and condemned him even before the defense could rest its presentation of evidence.  By saying that he was “just making a story,” the judge already concluded his guilt during trial.  The Court is not unaware of the case of Tabuena v. Sandiganbayan, where it was written:

The Court has acknowledged the right of a trial judge to question witnesses with a view to satisfying his mind upon any material point which presents itself during the trial of a case over which he presides.  But not only should his examination be limited to asking clarificatory questions, the right should be sparingly and judiciously used; for the rule is that the court should stay out of it as much as possible, neither interfering nor intervening in the conduct of trial… hardly in fact can one avoid the impression that the Sandiganbayan had allied itself with, or to be more precise, had taken the cudgels for the prosecution in proving the case against Tabuena and Peralta…. The “cold neutrality of an impartial judge” requirement of due process was certainly denied Tabuena and Peralta when the court, with its overzealousness, assumed the dual role of magistrate and advocate… A substantial portion of the TSN was incorporated in the majority opinion not to focus on “numbers” alone, but more importantly to show that the court questions were in the interest of the prosecution and which thus depart from the common standard of fairness and impartiality. (emphasis added)

The situation in the case at bench is, however, different.  As correctly pointed out by the Court of Appeals, although the trial judge might have made improper remarks and comments, it did not amount to a denial of his right to due process or his right to an impartial trial.  Upon perusal of the transcript as a whole, it cannot be said that the remarks were reflective of his partiality. They were not out of context.  Not only did the accused mislead the court by initially invoking a negative defense only to claim otherwise during trial, he was also not candid to his own lawyer, who was kept in the dark as to his intended defense.  The accused having admitted the killing, a reverse order of trial could have proceeded.  As it turned out, the prosecution undertook to discharge the burden of proving his guilt, when the burden of proof to establish that the killing was justified should have been his.  Most probably, the trial judge was peeved at the strategy he adopted.  The trial judge cannot be faulted for having made those remarks, notwithstanding the sarcastic tone impressed upon it.  The sarcasm alone cannot lead us to conclude that the trial judge “had taken the cudgels for the prosecution.  The invocation of Opida fails to persuade us either.  The facts therein are not at all fours with the case at bench.  In Opida, we did not fail to notice the “malicious,” “sadistic” and “adversarial” manner of questioning by the trial judge of the accused therein, including their defense witness.  In Opida, the accused never admitted the commission of the crime, and so the burden of proof remained with the prosecution.  The People of the Philippines vs. Benancio Mortera y Belarmino, G.R. No. 188104, April 23, 2010.

Other Proceedings

Actions; forum shopping in agrarian case.  Petitioners also submit that LBP is guilty of forum shopping because after LBP invoked the jurisdiction of the SAC of Santiago City, Isabela, and obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), LBP filed a petition for certiorari with the DARAB  (DSCA No. 0213) to prevent the execution of the Order of the RARAD. The DARAB eventually issued a TRO, and later, a writ of preliminary injunction, directed against the implementation of the RARAD’s decision.  Petitioners’ argument is mislaid.

In Canuto, Jr. v. National Labor Relations Commission, we held that forum shopping is manifest whenever a party “repetitively avail[s] of several judicial remedies in different courts, simultaneously or successively, all substantially founded on the same transactions and the same essential facts and circumstances, and all raising substantially the same issues either pending in, or already resolved adversely by, some other court.” It has also been defined as “an act of a party against whom an adverse judgment has been rendered in one forum of seeking and possibly getting a favorable opinion in another forum, other than by appeal or the special civil action of certiorari, or 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.” Considered a pernicious evil, it adversely affects the efficient administration of justice since it clogs the court dockets, unduly burdens the financial and human resources of the judiciary, and trifles with and mocks judicial processes.  In Veluz v. Court of Appeals, we held:

There is forum shopping when, in the two or more cases pending, there is identity of parties, rights or causes of action and relief sought. Forum shopping exists where the elements of litis pendentia are present or when a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in the other. For litis pendentia to exist, the following requisites must be present:

1.              Identity of parties, or at least such parties as those representing the same interests in both actions;

2.              Identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the reliefs     being founded on the same facts;

3.              Identity with respect to the two preceding particulars in the two cases, such that any judgment that may be rendered in the pending case, regardless of which party is successful, would amount to res judicata in the other case.

Reviewing the facts of this case, the SAC, after hearing the parties regarding the propriety of issuing the injunctive writ against the execution of the RARAD’s decision, found that it had no jurisdiction to resolve the matter. Hence, LBP filed a petition for certiorari with the DARAB (DSCA No. 0213) seeking the issuance of a TRO and preliminary injunction.  It is thus seen that there is no forum shopping because the SAC had no jurisdiction on the issuance of an injunctive writ against the RARAD’s decision. As the SAC had no jurisdiction over such matter, any ruling it renders is void and of no legal effect. Thus, LBP’s act of filing the petition for certiorari with the DARAB, which has the correct jurisdiction for the remedy sought, does not amount to forum shopping.  Heirs of Lorenzo Vidad and Carmen Vidad, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010.

Appeal; notice of appeal; substantial compliance in agrarian case.  Guided by the foregoing principles, we find that the Notices of Appeal substantially complied with all that is required under the 1994 DARAB Rules.  The following provisions are instructive in making this conclusion:

Rule XIII

APPEALS

Section 1. Appeal to the Board. a) An appeal may be taken from an order, resolution or decision of the Adjudicator to the Board by either of the parties or both, orally or in writing, within a period of fifteen (15) days from the receipt of the order, resolution or decision appealed from, and serving a copy thereof on the adverse party, if the appeal is in writing.

b)  An oral appeal shall be reduced into writing by the Adjudicator to be signed by the appellant, and a copy thereof shall be served upon the adverse party within ten (10) days from the taking of the oral appeal.

Section 2.  Grounds.  The aggrieved party may appeal to the Board from a final order, resolution or decision of the Adjudicator on any of the following grounds:

a)                That errors in the findings of fact or conclusions of laws were committed which, if not corrected, would cause grave and irreparable damage and injury to the appellant;

b)                That there is a grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Adjudicator; or

c)                That the order, resolution or decision is obtained through fraud or coercion.

x x x x

Section 5.  Requisites and Perfection of the Appeal.  a) The Notice of Appeal shall be filed within the reglementary period as provided for in Section 1 of this Rule.  It shall state the date when the appellant received the order or judgment appealed from and the proof of service of the notice to the adverse party; and

b)  An appeal fee of Five Hundred Pesos (P500.00) shall be paid by the appellant within the reglementary period to the DAR Cashier where the Office of the Adjudicators is situated.  x x x

Non-compliance with the above-mentioned requisites shall be a ground for dismissal of the appeal.

Both Notices of Appeal stated that the petitioners were appealing the decision “on the grounds of questions of fact and of law,” which we find sufficient statement of the ground for appeal under Section 2(a), Rule XIII of the DARAB Rules.  While the notices omitted to state that “the decision would cause grave and irreparable damage and injury to the appellant,” we find such punctilious fidelity to the language of the DARAB Rules unnecessary.  Surely by appealing the Decision of the Regional Adjudicator, the petitioners were already manifesting that they will be damaged by the assailed decision.  Requiring a literal application of the rules when its purpose has already been served is oppressive superfluity.  It must be stressed that the purpose of the notice of appeal is not to detail one’s objections regarding the appealed decision; that is the purpose of the appellants’ memorandum.  In the context of a DARAB case, the notice of appeal serves only to inform the tribunal or officer that rendered the appealed decision (i.e., the Regional Adjudicator) of the timeliness of the appeal and of the general reason for the appeal, and to prepare the records thereof for transmission to the appellate body (i.e., the DARAB).  Petitioners’ Notices of Appeal contain everything that is necessary to serve these purposes.  Another important consideration is the fact that petitioners were obviously not assisted by counsel in the filing of the Notices of Appeal.  Only the parties were signatories thereto; Atty. Mena’s signature was missing, which gives credence to petitioners’ assertion that they had already terminated the services of their counsel at that time.   Their new counsel, Atty. Dauphine B. Go, DAR-Legal Counsel, entered her appearance only on March 13, 2003, or several days after the Notices of Appeal were filed.  The Regional Adjudicator is also correct when she ruled that she has no power to determine if the appeal is frivolous and intended merely for delay.  Such matters are for the appellate body to determine after it has studied the appellant’s brief or the appeal memorandum.  The body which rendered the appealed decision should not pass upon the question of whether the appeal was taken manifestly for delay because such determination belongs to the appellate body.  For the lower body to do so would constitute a review of its own judgment and a mockery of the appellate process.  This principle is applicable to agrarian disputes by virtue of Section 8, Rule XIII of the DARAB Rules which states that the Board (not the Regional Adjudicator) has the power to impose reasonable penalties, including fine or censure, on parties who file frivolous or dilatory appeals.  The implication is that since the Board is the one which has the power to punish, it is also the one which has the power to decide if there has been a violation.  The Regional Adjudicator has no such power.  She must allow the appeal if it is timely and compliant with the reglementary requirements.  It has been held that when an appeal is filed on time, the approval of a notice of appeal is a ministerial duty of the court or tribunal which rendered the decision.  Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 165155, April 13, 2010.

Certiorari; exhaustion of administrative remedies in agrarian case.  At this juncture, we must point out that while respondents bewail petitioners’ lack of strict adherence to procedural rules, they also failed to observe some rules.  It is evident from the records that respondents filed two motions for reconsideration after the August 5, 2003 Order of the Regional Adjudicator.  This is prohibited under Section 12, Rule VIII of DARAB Rules, which provides that only one motion for reconsideration shall be allowed.  Moreover, respondents failed to exhaust administrative remedies when they filed their petition for certiorari before the CA, instead of the Board.  The DARAB Rules state that:

Rule XIV

Judicial Review

Section 1.  Certiorari to the Court of Appeals.  Any decision, order, resolution, award or ruling of the Board on any agrarian dispute or on any matter pertaining to the application, implementation, enforcement, interpretation of agrarian reform laws or rules and regulations promulgated thereunder, may be brought within fifteen (15) days from receipt of a copy thereof, to the Court of Appeals by certiorari.

An aggrieved party can only resort to judicial review after it has invoked the authority of the Board.  Judicial review is not provided for orders, rulings, and decisions of adjudicators.  It is stated in Section 1, Rule II that the Board has primary and exclusive, original and appellate jurisdiction over agrarian disputes involving agrarian laws and their implementing rules and regulations.  If respondents were strict adherents to procedural rules, they should have followed Section 2(b) of Rule XIII which provides for an appeal to the Board on the ground of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the adjudicator.  Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 165155, April 13, 2010.

Election case; forum shopping.  Forum shopping is the institution of two (2) or more suits in different courts, either simultaneously or successively, in order to ask the courts to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs.  There is forum shopping when as a result of an adverse decision in one (1) forum, or in anticipation thereof, a party seeks favorable opinion in another forum through means other than appeal or certiorari.  Under paragraph 2, Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, if the acts of the party or his counsel clearly constitute willful and deliberate forum shopping, the same shall be ground for summary dismissal with prejudice and shall constitute direct contempt, as well as a cause for administrative sanctions.

In determining whether a party violated the rule against forum shopping, the most important factor to ask is whether the elements of litis pendencia are present, or whether a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another.  For the principle of res judicata to apply, the following elements must be present: (1) the judgment sought to bar the new action must be final; (2) the decision must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) the disposition of the case must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be as between the first and second actions, identity of parties, subject matter, and cause of action.  In the present case, the second element is wanting.

Under Section 5(c), Rule 3 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure, any motion to reconsider a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a division shall be resolved by the Commission en banc except motions on interlocutory orders of the division which shall be resolved by the division which issued the order.  When the COMELEC, Second Division issued the September 4, 2009 Order, the appeal of respondent’s election protest was still pending resolution by the COMELEC en banc.  Clearly, the September 4, 2009 Order of the COMELEC, Second Division granting execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration is in the nature of an interlocutory order – one which does not dispose of the case completely but leaves something to be decided upon.  Therefore, in accordance with the Comelec Rules of Procedure, any motion to reconsider such interlocutory order of the division shall be resolved by the division which issued it.  Otherwise stated, the Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioner to question the September 4, 2009 Order issued by the COMELEC, Second Division had to  be resolved also by the Second Division, not by the COMELEC en banc.  Since the COMELEC en banc had no jurisdiction over petitioner’s Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration, its January 20, 2010 Resolution does not amount to res judicata in relation to the present petition.

Notably, in the certificate of forum shopping of Saludaga’s Petition before us, he disclosed that an Extremely Urgent Motion for Reconsideration of the September 4, 2009 Order is also pending before the COMELEC en banc.  Even then, the mere filing of a separate case, as in the original action for certiorari and prohibition filed by petitioner in G.R. No. 189431, after filing a responsive pleading in the other case, does not necessarily constitute forum shopping.  To reiterate, there is forum shopping when as a result of an adverse decision in one (1) forum, or in anticipation thereof, a party seeks favorable opinion in another forum through means other than appeal or certiorari.  Clearly, there is no forum shopping in this case to warrant an outright dismissal of the petition in G.R. No. 189431.  Mayor Quintin B. Saludaga vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120, April 7, 2010.

Election case; motion for execution pending resolution of motion for reconsideration.  On May 3, 2007, the Supreme Court promulgated A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC or the Rules of Procedure in Election Contests Before the Courts Involving Elective Municipal and Barangay Officials.  Section 11(a), Rule 14 of said rules sets the criteria for execution pending appeal as follows:

SEC. 11. Execution pending appeal. – On motion of the prevailing party with notice to the adverse party, the court, while still in possession of the original records, may, at its discretion, order the execution of the decision in an election contest before the expiration of the period to appeal, subject to the following rules:

(a) There must be a motion by the prevailing party with three-day notice to the adverse party. Execution pending appeal shall not issue without prior notice and hearing. There must be good reasons for the execution pending appeal. The court, in a special order, must state the good or special reasons justifying the execution pending appeal. Such reasons must:

(1) constitute superior circumstances demanding urgency that will outweigh the injury or damage should the losing party secure a reversal of the judgment on appeal; and

(2) be manifest, in the decision sought to be executed, that the defeat of the protestee or the victory of the protestant has been clearly established.

By analogy, this standard is also applicable in the grant of execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision, resolution, order or ruling of a division of the COMELEC.

Petitioner assails the September 4, 2009 Order for three (3) reasons.  First, the Second Division of the COMELEC failed to certify and elevate the records of the case upon the lapse of ten (10) days in accordance with Item 6(b) of Comelec Resolution No. 8654.  Second, the September 4, 2009 Order was signed by the Presiding Commissioner alone.  Lastly, respondent’s Motion for Execution Pending Motion for Reconsideration does not satisfy the criteria in A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC.  We shall tackle each objection separately.

On August 4, 2009, the COMELEC promulgated COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 for the purpose of adopting rules on the payment of COMELEC appeal fees and on the disposition of motions for reconsideration of decisions, resolutions and orders on election protest cases, appeal cases and special relief cases of a division to conform to our ruling in Aguilar v. COMELEC and Insoy.

Item 6 of Comelec Resolution No. 8654 provides:

6. If a motion for the execution of the decision or resolution of the Division is filed prior to the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration, or within two days after the filing of the Motion for Reconsideration and the case was not yet certified to or elevated to the Commission en banc, the Division may, at its own discretion:

a. Certify and elevate the case, together with the Motion for Execution as part of the records of the case, to the Commission En Banc within the two day period as prescribed in Section 5, Rule 19 of the Rules of Court.

b. Stay for a period of not more than ten (10) days from the filing of the Motion for Execution, the elevation of the case to the Commission En Banc, in order to resolve said Motion for Execution. Upon the expiration of the ten-day period, the Division shall immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission En Banc for appropriate action. (Emphasis supplied).

Prior to the filing of a motion for reconsideration of a decision or resolution issued by a division of the COMELEC or during the pendency of such motion for reconsideration but before the case is certified or elevated to the COMELEC en banc, the motion for execution may be acted upon by the division that issued the decision or resolution.  Under Item 6(a), a division of the COMELEC may choose to elevate both the main action and the motion for execution to the COMELEC en banc.  Item 6(b), on the other hand, contemplates a situation where the division decides to rule on the motion for the execution of its decision or resolution.  In the latter, the division may defer the elevation of the case to the Commission en banc in order to resolve the motion.  After the lapse of ten (10) days from the filing of the motion for execution, however, the division shall immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records – including the motion for execution – to the Commission en banc for appropriate action.  This describes the second scenario when the COMELEC en banc may rule on a motion for execution pending the resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision or resolution of a division.  In the case at hand, respondent filed a motion for execution of the Resolution dated August 12, 2009 on August 13, 2009.  Thus, the Second Division of COMELEC had only until August 23, 2009 to resolve the same.  In the Order dated September 4, 2009, Presiding Commissioner Ferrer, acting for the Second Division, justifies the delay in the resolution of the motion for execution by saying that it was in the interest of fair play that he required petitioner to file a comment.  The Presiding Commissioner posits that the 10-day period is reckoned from the day the Second Division received petitioner’s comment on September 1, 2009.

We cannot agree. In accordance with the express provision of the law, the ten (10) days within which a division of the COMELEC may suspend elevating the case to the Commission en banc is to be counted from the filing of the motion for execution.  The language of the law is clear, plain and too simple to invite a different interpretation.  Moreover, nowhere in COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 does it say that a comment is required, much less, indispensable before the division may rule on a motion for execution.  ter the lapse of the 10-day period, the only power (and duty) that a division has is to certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission en banc, for appropriate action.  Hence, upon the lapse of the 10-day period or after August 23, 2009, the Second Division no longer had jurisdiction to rule on respondent’s motion for execution.  Having done so, the September 4, 2009 Order is void for having been issued by the COMELEC, Second Division without jurisdiction.

Indeed, even if said Order was promulgated within 10 days from the filing of the motion for execution, it would still be void because Presiding Commissioner Ferrer alone signed it.   justify the Presiding Commissioner’s action, public respondent COMELEC invokes Section 6 (d), Rule 2 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure which provides,

SEC. 6. Powers and Duties of the Presiding Commissioner.-The powers and duties of the Presiding Commissioner of a Division when discharging its functions in cases pending before the Division shall be as follows:

x x x x

(d) To sign interlocutory resolutions, orders or rulings and temporary restraining orders in cases already assigned to the Division;

x x x x.

However, this provision has been qualified by the amendment introduced by the Commission en banc as reflected in the Excerpts of its regular en banc meeting held on December 5, 1996.  The relevant portion of the Excerpts reads:

3) The ponente in the preceding two paragraphs shall prepare interlocutory orders for signature of the Chairman or Division Chairman. Orders of substance, however, shall be referred to the Division/En Banc for clearance. (Emphasis supplied.)

An order resolving a motion for execution is one (1) such order of substance that requires more than the lone imprimatur of the Division Chairman.  This is so because execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration may issue only upon good or special reasons contained in a special order.  To reiterate, such reasons must: (1) constitute superior circumstances demanding urgency that will outweigh the injury or damage should the losing party secure a reversal of the judgment on appeal; and (2) be manifest, in the decision sought to be executed, that the defeat of the protestee or the victory of the protestant had been clearly established.  These stringent requirements demand more than a cursory evaluation of a motion for execution pending reconsideration.  Hence, the need to refer such order for clearance by the Division or the COMELEC en banc, as the case may be.

This amendment is reflected in Item 6, COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 which identifies the division as the one (1) in possession of the discretion to either: (1) certify and elevate the case, together with the motion for execution, to the Commission en banc within the two-day period prescribed in Section 5, Rule 19 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure, or (2) stay, for a period of not more than ten (10) days from the filing of a motion for execution, the elevation of the case to the Commission en banc, in order to resolve said motion.  Alternatively, upon the expiration of the 10-day period, the decision may immediately certify and elevate the case, together with all the records, to the Commission en banc for appropriate action.  e discretion to allow execution pending reconsideration belongs to the division that rendered the assailed decision, order or resolution, or the COMELEC en banc, as the case may be – not to the Presiding Commissioner.  To be sure, a writ of execution pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration of a decision of the division is not granted as a matter of right such that its issuance becomes a ministerial duty that may be dispensed even just by the Presiding Commissioner. Mayor Quintin B. Saludaga vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120, April 7, 2010.

Election case; questions of fact addressed to COMELEC.  Finally, in his Verified Motion for Reconsideration, petitioner raised factual issues, specifically, on the appreciation of votes and the discrepancy in the number of votes credited to each candidate in four (4) precincts.  However, the appreciation of contested ballots and election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the COMELEC, a specialized agency tasked with the supervision of elections all over the country.  After all, it is the constitutional commission vested with the exclusive original jurisdiction over election contests involving regional, provincial and city officials, as well as appellate jurisdiction over election protests involving elective municipal and barangay officials.  Hence, we deem it proper to remand this case to the COMELEC en banc, in order that it may resolve petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated August 12, 2009 on the merits.  Mayor Quintin B. Saludaga vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. Nos. 189431 & 191120, April 7, 2010.

Jurisdiction; exemption from CARL is matter within primary jurisdiction of DAR Secretary.  Petitioners also raise for the first time in the entire proceedings of this case that respondents had presented to the Regional Adjudicator an entirely spurious and fabricated DAR Order exempting respondents’ landholdings from the coverage of CARP.  It will be recalled that the Regional Adjudicator’s decision below is based on the assumption that respondents’ landholdings are exempt from CARP coverage, hence the obligation on the part of petitioners to pay lease rentals.  Petitioners maintain that they only discovered the spurious nature of the exemption order during the pendency of their appeal to this Court.  They presented several certificates from various DAR offices stating that the latter have no record of the said exemption order in favor of respondents.  If such exemption order is indeed fabricated, their possession of CLTs and EPs should be respected, thus they should be held under no obligation to pay rentals to respondents. Thus, they seek the nullification of the exemption order on the ground that it is counterfeit.   On the other hand, respondents assert that the validity of the exemption order had already been settled in the annulment case filed by petitioners against respondents in 1994, docketed as DARAB Case No. 602-B-94.  They likewise maintain that the issue involves factual matters which are not within the province of the Supreme Court.

DARAB Case No. 602-B ’94 is a complaint for annulment of the regional director’s order, which granted respondents’ petition for the exemption of their landholdings from the coverage of the CARP.  In that case, petitioners assailed the validity of the order on the ground that they were not given an opportunity to present controverting evidence and that the title of petitioners to the land was not registered within the period prescribed by law.  Their complaint was dismissed on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. The provincial adjudicator, as later affirmed by the DARAB and the CA, ruled that only the Agrarian Reform Secretary has appellate jurisdiction over the exemption orders issued by a regional director.  Petitioners filed a petition for review before this Court but it was not timely filed.  Hence, a resolution was issued where the case was deemed closed and terminated.  Entry of judgment was made on September 6, 2002.

Contrary to respondents’ arguments, there was never any ruling regarding the validity or authenticity of the exemption order.  What was ruled upon, and became final, was that the exemption order cannot be reviewed by the provincial adjudicator or DARAB since exclusive appellate jurisdiction rests in the Office of the DAR Secretary.  Thus, it appears that petitioners’ right to question the authenticity of the exemption order in the proper forum has not yet been foreclosed.  The instant case, however, is not the proper place to bring the issue of authenticity. Exemption from the comprehensive agrarian reform law is an administrative matter the primary jurisdiction over which has been lodged with the DAR Secretary.  Moreover, the issue of authenticity is entirely factual.  Since this was never raised below, we have no basis on record to rule on the authenticity of the exemption order.  Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 165155, April 13, 2010.

Jurisdiction; remand to Court of Appeals to receive evidence and determine just compensation.  In Land Bank of the Philippines v. Spouses Banal, we remanded the case to the SAC for further reception of evidence because the trial court based its valuation upon a different formula and did not conduct any hearing for the reception of evidence.  The mandatory application of the aforementioned guidelines in determining just compensation has been reiterated recently in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Lim and Land Bank of the Philippines v. Heirs of Eleuterio Cruz, where we also ordered the remand of the cases to the SAC for the determination of just compensation strictly in accordance with the applicable DAR regulations.  Thus, the remand of the case is necessary for the parties to present their evidence, as we are not a trier of facts.

Considering, however, that the land was acquired in 1989 and the only surviving petitioner is now an octogenarian and is in need of urgent medical attention, we find these special circumstances justifying in the acceleration of the final disposition of this case. This Court deems it best pro hac vice to commission the CA as its agent to receive and evaluate the evidence of the parties. The CA’s mandate is to ascertain the just compensation due in accordance with this Decision, applying Section 17 of RA 6557 and applicable DAR regulations. As explained in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Gallego, Jr., the remand of cases before this Court to the CA for the reception of further evidence is not a novel procedure. It is sanctioned by Section 6, Rule 46 of the Rules of Court.  In fact, the Court availed of this procedure in quite a few cases. Heirs of Lorenzo Vidad and Carmen Vidad, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010.

Jurisdiction; seizure and forfeiture proceedings within exclusive original jurisdiction of Bureau of Customs.  Petitioner alleges that the RTC of Olongapo City has no jurisdiction over the action for injunction and damages filed by respondents on 11 June 2002 as said action is within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the BOC pursuant to Section 602 of Republic Act No. 1937, otherwise known as the “Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines,” as amended.  Section 602 provides, thus:

Sec. 602.  Functions of the Bureau.- The general duties, powers and jurisdiction of the bureau shall include:

x x x

g.  Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over seizure and forfeiture cases under the tariff and customs laws.

Petitioner contends that the imported 2,000 bags of rice were in the actual physical control and possession of the BOC as early as 25 October 2001, by virtue of the BOC Subic Port Hold Order of even date, and of the BOC Warrant of Seizure and Detention dated 22 May 2002.  As such, the BOC had acquired exclusive original jurisdiction over the subject shipment, to the exclusion of the RTC.  We agree with petitioner.

It is well settled that the Collector of Customs has exclusive jurisdiction over seizure and forfeiture proceedings, and regular courts cannot interfere with his exercise thereof or stifle or put it at naught.  The Collector of Customs sitting in seizure and forfeiture proceedings has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all questions touching on the seizure and forfeiture of dutiable goods.  Regional trial courts are devoid of any competence to pass upon the validity or regularity of seizure and forfeiture proceedings conducted by the BOC and to enjoin or otherwise interfere with these proceedings.  Regional trial courts are precluded from assuming cognizance over such matters even through petitions for certiorari, prohibition or mandamus.. Verily, the rule is that from the moment imported goods are actually in the possession or control of the Customs authorities, even if no warrant for seizure or detention had previously been issued by the Collector of Customs in connection with the seizure and forfeiture proceedings, the BOC acquires exclusive jurisdiction over such imported goods for the purpose of enforcing the customs laws, subject to appeal to the Court of Tax Appeals whose decisions are appealable to this Court.  As we have clarified in Commissioner of Customs v. Makasiar, the rule that RTCs have no review powers over such proceedings is anchored upon the policy of placing no unnecessary hindrance on the government’s drive, not only to prevent smuggling and other frauds upon Customs, but more importantly, to render effective and efficient the collection of import and export duties due the State, which enables the government to carry out the functions it has been instituted to perform.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010.

Jurisdiction; Special Agrarian Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over just compensation cases under CARL. Petitioners insist that the RARAD, in exercising quasi-judicial powers, has concurrent jurisdiction with the [Special Agrarian Court] in just compensation cases. Hence, the RARAD’s decision, being a final determination of the appraisal of just compensation by the DARAB, should be appealed to this Court and not the SAC.  For its part, LBP insists that the RARAD/DARAB decision is merely a preliminary valuation, since the courts have the ultimate power to decide the question on just compensation.

The procedure for the determination of just compensation under RA 6657, as summarized by this Court in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Spouses Banal, commences with LBP determining the value of the lands under the land reform program. Using LBP’s valuation, the DAR makes an offer to the landowner through a notice sent to the landowner, pursuant to Section 16(a) of RA 6657. In case the landowner rejects the offer, the DAR adjudicator conducts a summary administrative proceeding to determine the compensation for the land by requiring the landowner, the LBP and other interested parties to submit evidence as to the just compensation for the land. A party who disagrees with the decision of the DAR adjudicator may bring the matter to the RTC designated as a Special Agrarian Court for final determination of just compensation.

Contrary to petitioners’ argument, the PARAD/RARAD/DARAB do not exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the SAC in just compensation cases. The determination of just compensation is judicial in nature.  The original and exclusive jurisdiction of the SAC in just compensation cases is not a novel issue. This has been extensively discussed in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Belista, to wit:

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

We do not agree with petitioners’ submission that the SAC erred in assuming jurisdiction over the petition for determination of just compensation filed by LBP after the RARAD rendered its 29 March 2000 decision. In Land Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, we had the occasion to rule that the SAC acquired jurisdiction over the action for the determination of just compensation even during the pendency of the DARAB proceedings, for the following reason:

It is clear from Sec. 57 that the RTC, sitting as a Special Agrarian Court, has “original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners.” This “original and excusive” jurisdiction of the RTC would be undermined if the DAR would vest in administrative officials original jurisdiction in compensation cases and make the RTC an appellate court for the review of administrative decisions. Thus, although the new rules speak of directly appealing the decision of adjudicators to the RTCs sitting as Special Agrarian Courts, it is clear from Sec. 57 that the original and exclusive jurisdiction to determine such cases is in the RTCs. Any effort to transfer such jurisdiction to the adjudicators and to convert the original jurisdiction of the RTCs into an appellate jurisdiction would be contrary to Sec. 57 and therefore would be void. Thus, direct resort to the SAC by private respondent is valid.

In fact, RA 6657 does not make DAR’s valuation absolutely binding as the amount payable by LBP. A reading of Section 18 of RA 6657 shows that the courts, and not the DAR, make the final determination of just compensation. It is well-settled that the DAR’s land valuation is only preliminary and is not, by any means, final and conclusive upon the landowner or any other interested party. The courts will still have the right to review with finality the determination in the exercise of what is admittedly a judicial function.

It must be emphasized that the taking of property under RA 6657 is an exercise of the State’s power of eminent domain. The valuation of property or determination of just compensation in eminent domain proceedings is essentially a judicial function which is vested with the courts and not with administrative agencies.  When the parties cannot agree on the amount of just compensation, only the exercise of judicial power can settle the dispute with binding effect on the winning and losing parties. On the other hand, the determination of just compensation in the RARAD/DARAB requires the voluntary agreement of the parties. Unless the parties agree, there is no settlement of the dispute before the RARAD/DARAB, except if the aggrieved party fails to file a petition for just compensation on time before the RTC.  LBP thus correctly filed a petition for determination of just compensation with the SAC, which has the original and exclusive jurisdiction in just compensation cases under RA 6657. DAR’s valuation, being preliminary in nature, could not have attained finality, as it is only the courts that can resolve the issue on just compensation. Consequently, the SAC properly took cognizance of LBP’s petition for determination of just compensation.  Heirs of Lorenzo Vidad and Carmen Vidad, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010.

Parties; Land Bank of the Philippines has personality to file agrarian case before Special Agrarian Court.  Petitioners submit that LBP has no legal personality and has no cause of action to institute the agrarian case before the SAC. Petitioners argue that LBP cannot on its own, separate and independent of DAR, file an original action for determination of just compensation against the RARAD and petitioners, because it is a usurpation of the exclusive authority of DAR to initiate and prosecute expropriation proceedings. Petitioners thus insist that in land acquisition cases, the only real parties-in-interest are the landowners and the government, the latter acting through the DAR.  We do not agree.

Section 18 of RA 6657 states:

Sec. 18.  Valuation and Mode of Compensation. — The LBP shall compensate the landowner in such amount as may be agreed upon by the landowner and the DAR and the LBP x x x, or as may be finally determined by the court as the just compensation for the land.

This provision clearly states that there should be a consensus among the landowner, the DAR, and the LBP on the amount of just compensation. Therefore, LBP is not merely a nominal party in the determination of just compensation. RA 6657 directs LBP to pay the DAR’s land valuation only if the landowner, the DAR and LBP agree on the amount of just compensation. The DAR proceedings are but preliminary, and becomes final only when the parties have all agreed to the amount of just compensation fixed by the DAR.  However, should a party disagree with the amount fixed by DAR, then the jurisdiction of the SAC may be invoked for the purpose.

There is likewise no merit in petitioners’ allegation that LBP lacks locus standi to file a case with the SAC, separate and independent from the DAR. In Heirs of Roque F. Tabuena v. Land Bank of the Philippines, we ruled that the LBP is an indispensable party in expropriation proceedings under RA 6657, and thus, has the legal personality to question the determination of just compensation, independent of the DAR:

LBP is an agency created primarily to provide financial support in all phases of agrarian reform pursuant to Section 74 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3844 and Section 64 of RA No. 6657. It is vested with the primary responsibility and authority in the valuation and compensation of covered landholdings to carry out the full implementation of the Agrarian Reform Program. It may agree with the DAR and the land owner as to the amount of just compensation to be paid to the latter and may also disagree with them and bring the matter to court for judicial determination.

Once an expropriation proceeding for the acquisition of private agricultural lands is commenced by the DAR, the indispensable role of LBP begins, which clearly shows that there would never be a judicial determination of just compensation absent respondent LBP’s participation. Logically, it follows that respondent is an indispensable party in an action for the determination of just compensation in cases arising from agrarian reform program; as such, it can file an appeal independently of DAR.

Hence, in Land Bank of the Philippines v. AMS Farming Corporation, we ruled that LBP is a real party-in-interest which could file its own appeal in agrarian reform cases, to wit:

XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX                                          XXX

It is thus beyond question that LBP has the legal personality to file the petition for determination of just compensation with the SAC.  Heirs of Lorenzo Vidad and Carmen Vidad, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines,G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010.

Parties; real party in interest in agrarian case.  Respondents claim, and the CA has ruled, that the March 5, 2003 Notice of Appeal (filed by the second group) was a “forgery” and thus void, because it bore signatures above the names of the deceased Avelino and Pedro, which were obviously not written by the decedents themselves.  First of all, we have to point out that the confusion in this case was brought about by respondents themselves when they included in their complaint two defendants who were already dead.  Instead of impleading the decedent’s heirs and current occupants of the landholding, respondents filed their complaint against the decedents, contrary to the following provision of the 1994 DARAB Rules of Procedure:

RULE V

PARTIES, CAPTION AND SERVICE OF PLEADINGS

SECTION 1. Parties in Interest. Every agrarian case must be initiated and defended in the name of the real party in interest. x x x

A real party in interest is defined as “the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of a suit.” The real parties in interest, at the time the complaint was filed, were no longer the decedents Avelino and Pedro, but rather their respective heirs who are entitled to succeed to their rights (whether as agricultural lessees or as farmers-beneficiaries) under our agrarian laws.  They are the ones who, as heirs of the decedents and actual tillers, stand to be removed from the landholding and made to pay back rentals to respondents if the complaint is sustained.  Since respondents failed to correct their error (they did not amend the erroneous caption of their complaint to include the real parties-in-interest), they cannot be insulated from the confusion which it engendered in the proceedings below.  But at any rate, notwithstanding the erroneous caption and the absence of a formal substitution of parties, jurisdiction was acquired over the heirs of Avelino and Pedro who voluntarily participated in the proceedings below.  This Court has ruled that formal substitution of parties is not necessary when the heirs themselves voluntarily appeared, participated, and presented evidence during the proceedings.  Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 165155, April 13, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal construction in agrarian cases.  There is nothing sacred about the forms of pleadings or processes, their sole purpose being to facilitate the application of justice to the rival claims of contending parties.  Hence, pleadings as well as procedural rules should be construed liberally.  Dismissal of appeals purely on technical grounds is frowned upon because rules of procedure should not be applied to override substantial justice.  Courts must proceed with caution so as not to deprive a party of statutory appeal; they must ensure that all litigants are granted the amplest opportunity for the proper and just ventilation of their causes, free from technical constraints.  If the foregoing tenets are followed in a civil case, their application is made more imperative in an agrarian case where the rules themselves provide for liberal construction, thus:

Rule I

General Provisions

Section 2.  Construction.  These Rules shall be liberally construed to carry out the objectives of the agrarian reform program and to promote just, expeditious, and inexpensive adjudication and settlement of agrarian cases, disputes or controversies.

xxx

Section 3.  Technical Rules Not Applicable.  The Board and its Regional and Provincial Adjudicators shall not be bound by technical rules of procedure and evidence as prescribed in the Rules of Court, but shall proceed to hear and decide all agrarian cases, disputes or controversies in a most expeditious manner, employing all reasonable means to ascertain the facts of every case in accordance with justice and equity.

Rule VIII

Proceedings before the Adjudicators and the Board

Section 1.  Nature of Proceedings.  The proceedings before the Board or its Adjudicators shall be non-litigious in nature.  Subject to the essential requirements of due process, the technicalities of law and procedure and the rules governing the admissibility and sufficiency of evidence obtained in the courts of law shall not apply.

Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 165155, April 13, 2010.

Evidence

Best Evidence Rule; when not applicable.  Petitioner Nissan insists that no judgment can properly be rendered against it, as respondent United failed, during the trial of the case, to offer in evidence the service contract upon which it based its claim for sum of money and damages.  As a result, the decisions of the lower courts were mere postulations.  Nissan asserts that the resolution of this case calls for the application of the best evidence rule.

Nissan’s reliance on the best evidence rule is misplaced.  The best evidence rule is the rule which requires the highest grade of evidence to prove a disputed fact.  However, the same applies only when the contents of a document are the subject of the inquiry.  In this case, the contents of the service contract between Nissan and United have not been put in issue.  Neither United nor Nissan disputes the contents of the service contract; as in fact, both parties quoted and relied on the same provision of the contract (paragraph 17) to support their respective claims and defenses.  Thus, the best evidence rule finds no application here.  The real issue in this case is whether or not Nissan committed a breach of contract, thereby entitling United to damages in the amount equivalent to 30 days’ service.  We rule in the affirmative.

At the heart of the controversy is paragraph 17 of the service contract, which reads:

However, violations committed by either party on the provisions of this Contract shall be sufficient ground for the termination of this contract, without the necessity of prior notice, otherwise a thirty (30) days prior written notice shall be observed.

Nissan argues that the failure of United’s security guards to report for duty on two occasions, without justifiable cause, constitutes a violation of the provisions of the service contract, sufficient to entitle Nissan to terminate the same without the necessity of a 30-day prior notice.  We hold otherwise.

As the Metropolitan Trial Court of Las Piñas City stated in its decision, Nissan did not adduce any evidence to substantiate its claim that the terms of the contract were violated by United.  What Nissan failed to do is to point out or indicate the specific provisions of the service contract which were violated by United as a result of the latter’s lapses in security.  In so failing, Nissan’s act of unilaterally terminating the contract constitutes a breach thereof, entitling United to collect actual damages.  Nissan North Edsa Operating Under the name Motor Carriage, Inc. vs. United Philippine Scout, G.R. No. 179470, April 20, 2010.

“Admission against interest” distinguished from “Declaration against interest.”  At the outset, it bears to point out that it is wrong for petitioners to argue that Basilisa’s alleged sworn statement is a declaration against interest. It is not a declaration against interest. Instead, it is an admission against interest.  Indeed, there is a vital distinction between admissions against interest and declarations against interest. Admissions against interest are those made by a party to a litigation or by one in privity with or identified in legal interest with such party, and are admissible whether or not the declarant is available as a witness.  Declarations against interest are those made by a person who is neither a party nor in privity with a party to the suit, are secondary evidence, and constitute an exception to the hearsay rule. They are admissible only when the declarant is unavailable as a witness. In the present case, since Basilisa is respondents’ predecessor-in-interest and is, thus, in privity with the latter’s legal interest, the former’s sworn statement, if proven genuine and duly executed, should be considered as an admission against interest.  Alejandra S. Lazaro, et al. vs. Modesta Agustin, et al., G.R. No. 152364, April 15, 2010.

Burden of proof.  Hacienda Bigaa contends that the rulings in the antecedent cases on the nullity of its subdivision titles should not apply to the present case because the titles – TCT Nos. 44695 and 56120 – have not been specifically declared void by court order and must be given probative value.  It likewise posits that Chavez failed to introduce evidence before the MTC that the land subject matter of the suit is the same land covered by the decision of the Supreme Court in the antecedent cases.  We reject this contention in light of our holding in the Ayala y Cia and De los Angeles cases that apart from those expressly litigated and annulled, all “other subdivision titles” over the excess areas of Hacienda Calatagan must be nullified for covering unregisterable lands of the public domain that must revert to the Republic.  To reiterate, lots and their titles derived from the Ayala’s and the Zobels’ TCT No. 722 not shown to be within the original coverage of this title are conclusively public domain areas and their titles will be struck down as nullities. What could have saved Hacienda Bigaa, as successor-in-interest of the Ayalas and the Zobels, is competent evidence that the subdivision titles in its possession do not fall within the excess areas of TCT No. 722 that are null and void because they are lands of the public domain.

Hacienda Bigaa however failed to discharge this burden.  Therefore, the Court of Appeals, citing Ayala y Cia and De los Angeles, correctly held that –

x  x  x [S]uffice it to state that as heretofore shown, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the fact that Zoila de Chavez’s fishpond permit is within the land covered by the cited decision. Moreover, the Supreme Court has shifted the burden of proof in this regard to Zobel or Ayala y Cia when it declared that, “Clearly, the burden of proof lies on respondent Zobel and other transferees to show that his subdivision titles are not among the unlawful expanded subdivision titles declared null and void by the said 1965 judgment.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Hacienda Bigaa, Inc. vs. Epifanio V. Chavez, et al., G.R. No. 174160, April 20, 2010.

Burden of proof; party must prove allegations.  A similar dearth of merit may be said of the exceptions petitioner continues to take against the MeTC’s reliance on the survey plan prepared by Geodetic Engineer Joseph Padilla to the effect that that the premises occupied by petitioner lies within the metes and bounds of respondent’s property. As mere allegation is not evidence, the rule is settled that plaintiff has the burden of proving the material allegations of the complaint which are denied by the defendant, and the defendant has the burden of proving the material allegations in his case where he sets up a new matter.  Given the parties’ failure to make good on their agreement to cause a survey of the property thru an impartial surveyor from the Office of the City Assessor or City Engineer, respondent’s submission of said report was evidently for the purpose discharging the onus of proving petitioner’s encroachment on the subject parcel, as alleged in the complaint.  As the party asserting the contrary proposition, petitioner cannot expediently disparage the admissibility and probative value of said survey plan to compensate for his failure to prove his own assertions.  Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Burden of proof on party making allegation.  This brings us to the second ground raised in the petition – that Executive Order No. 378, in allowing government agencies to secure their printing requirements from the private sector and in limiting the budget of the NPO to its income, will purportedly lead to the gradual abolition of the NPO and the loss of security of tenure of its present employees.  In other words, petitioners avow that the reorganization of the NPO under Executive Order No. 378 is tainted with bad faith.  The basic evidentiary rule is that he who asserts a fact or the affirmative of an issue has the burden of proving it.  A careful review of the records will show that petitioners utterly failed to substantiate their claim.  They failed to allege, much less prove, sufficient facts to show that the limitation of the NPO’s budget to its own income would indeed lead to the abolition of the position, or removal from office, of any employee.  Neither did petitioners present any shred of proof of their assertion that the changes in the functions of the NPO were for political considerations that had nothing to do with improving the efficiency of, or encouraging operational economy in, the said agency.  Atty. Sylvia Banda, et al. vs.. Eduardo R. Ermita, et al.,  G.R. No. 166620, April 20, 2010.

Entries in the course of business.  The CA of course places no value on the Consolidated Billing Statement that Land Bank would have adduced in evidence had the RTC granted its motion for reconsideration and reopened the hearing.  Apparently, both courts believe that Land Bank needed to present in evidence all original documents evidencing every transaction between Land Bank and Monet to prove the current status of the latter’s loan accounts.  But a bank statement, properly authenticated by a competent bank officer, can serve as evidence of the status of those accounts and what Monet and the Tagles still owe the bank.  Under Section 43, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, entries prepared in the regular course of business are prima facie evidence of the truth of what they state.  The billing statement reconciles the transaction entries entered in the bank records in the regular course of business and shows the net result of such transactions.  Entries in the course of business are accorded unusual reliability because their regularity and continuity are calculated to discipline record keepers in the habit of precision.  If the entries are financial, the records are routinely balanced and audited.  In actual experience, the whole of the business world function in reliance of such kind of records.  Parenthetically, consider a borrower who takes out a loan of P10,000.00 from a bank and executes a promissory note providing for interests, charges, and penalties and an undertaking to pay the loan in 10 monthly installments of P1,000.00.  If he pays the first five months installments but defaults in the rest, how will the bank prove in court that the debtor still owes it P5,000.00 plus interest?  The bank will of course present the promissory note to establish the scope of the debtor’s primary obligations and a computation of interests, charges, and penalties based on its terms.  It must then show by the entries in its record how much it had actually been paid.  This will in turn establish how much the borrower still owes it.  The bank does not have to present all the receipts of payment it issued to all its clients during the entire year, thousands of them, merely to establish the fact that only five of them, rather than ten, pertains to the borrower.  The original documents need not be presented in evidence when it is numerous, cannot be examined in court without great loss of time, and the fact sought to be established from them is only the general result.  Monet and the Tagles can of course dispute the bank’s billing statements by proof that the bank had exaggerated what was owed it and that Monet had made more payments than were reflected in those statements.  They can do this by presenting evidence of those greater payments.  Notably, Monet and the Tagles have consistently avoided stating in their letters to the bank how much they still owed it.  But, ultimately, it is as much their obligation to prove this disputed point if they deny the bank’s statements of their loan accounts.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Monet’s Export and Manufacturing Corp., et al., G.R. No. 184971, April 19, 2010.

Notarized document; effect and purpose of notarization.  The Court further agrees with the ruling of the RTC that:

The testimony of [the notary public] Atty. Angel Respicio did not suffice to rebut the evidence of the appellees considering his admission that the affidavit was already thumbmarked when presented to him by one who claimed to be Basilisa Santos and whom, the witness said he did not know personally. Further, what makes the documents suspect is the fact that it was subscribed on the same date as the financial statement of Alejandra Santos.

It may not be amiss to point out, at this juncture, that the principal function of a notary public is to authenticate documents.  When a notary public certifies to the due execution and delivery of a document under his hand and seal, he gives the document the force of evidence.  Indeed, one of the purposes of requiring documents to be acknowledged before a notary public, in addition to the solemnity which should surround the execution and delivery of documents, is to authorize such documents to be given without further proof of their execution and delivery.  A notarial document is by law entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. Courts, administrative agencies and the public at large must be able to rely upon the acknowledgment executed before a notary public and appended to a private instrument.  Hence, a notary public must discharge his powers and duties, which are impressed with public interest, with accuracy and fidelity.  A notary public should not notarize a document unless the persons who signed the same are the very same persons who executed and personally appeared before him to attest to the contents and truth of what are stated therein.  In the instant case, the notary public should have exercised utmost diligence in ascertaining the true identity of the person executing the said sworn statement. However, the notary public did not comply with this requirement. He simply relied on the affirmative answers of the person appearing before him attesting that she was Basilisa Santos; that the contents of the sworn statement are true; and that the thumbmark appearing on the said document was hers. However, this would not suffice. He could have further asked the person who appeared before him to produce any identification to prove that she was indeed Basilisa Santos, considering that the said person was not personally known to him, and that the thumbmark appearing on the document sought to be notarized was not affixed in his presence. But he did not. Thus, the lower courts did not commit any error in not giving evidentiary weight to the subject sworn statement.  Alejandra S. Lazaro, et al. vs. Modesta Agustin, et al., G.R. No. 152364, April 15, 2010.

Notarized document; presumption of regularity may be rebutted.  Settled is the rule that generally, a notarized document carries the evidentiary weight conferred upon it with respect to its due execution, and documents acknowledged before a notary public have in their favor the presumption of regularity.  However, this presumption is not absolute and may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.  Moreover, not all notarized documents are exempted from the rule on authentication. Thus, an affidavit does not automatically become a public document just because it contains a notarial jurat.  The presumptions that attach to notarized documents can be affirmed only so long as it is beyond dispute that the notarization was regular.

Petitioners rely heavily on the presumption of regularity accorded by law to notarized documents. While indeed, a notarized document enjoys this presumption, the fact that a deed is notarized is not a guarantee of the validity of its contents.  As earlier discussed, the presumption is not absolute and may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The presumption cannot be made to apply to the present case because the regularity in the execution of the sworn statement was challenged in the proceedings below where its prima facie validity was overthrown by the highly questionable circumstances under which it was supposedly executed, as well as the testimonies of witnesses who testified on the improbability of execution of the sworn statement, as well as on the physical condition of the signatory, at the time the questioned document was supposedly executed. The trial and appellate courts were unanimous in giving credence to the testimonies of these witnesses. The Court has repeatedly held that it will not interfere with the trial court’s determination of the credibility of witnesses, unless there appears on record some fact or circumstance of weight and influence which has been overlooked or the significance of which has been misinterpreted.  The reason for this is that the trial court was in a better position to do so, because it heard the witnesses testify before it and had every opportunity to observe their demeanor and deportment on the witness stand.  Considering the foregoing, the Court finds no reason to reverse the rulings of the MTCC, the RTC and the CA. Although the questioned sworn statement is a public document having in its favor the presumption of regularity, such presumption was adequately refuted by competent witnesses.  Alejandra S. Lazaro, et al. vs. Modesta Agustin, et al., G.R. No. 152364, April 15, 2010.

Presumptions; regularity in the performance of official duty.  Petitioner’s invocation of the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty on the part of Sheriff Castillo is misplaced.  While posting the notice of sale is part of a sheriff’s official functions, the actual publication of the notice of sale cannot be considered as such, since this concerns the publisher’s business.  Simply put, the sheriff is incompetent to prove that the notice of sale was actually published in a newspaper of general circulation.  The Court further notes that the Notice of Extra-Judicial Sale, prepared and posted by Sheriff Castillo, does not indicate the newspaper where such notice would be published.  The space provided where the name of the newspaper should be was left blank, with only the dates of publication clearly written.  This omission raises serious doubts as to whether there was indeed publication of the notice of sale.  Philippine Savings Bank vs. Spouses Dionisio Geronimo, et al., G.R. No. 170241, April 19, 2010.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt.  While petitioner admits to his civil liability to Asiatrust, he nevertheless does not have criminal liability.  It is a well-established principle that person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. To overcome the presumption, his guilt must be shown by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, we held in People v. Mariano that while the principle does not connote absolute certainty, it means the degree of proof which produces moral certainty in an unprejudiced mind of the culpability of the accused.  Such proof should convince and satisfy the reason and conscience of those who are to act upon it that the accused is in fact guilty.  The prosecution, in this instant case, failed to rebut the constitutional innocence of petitioner and thus the latter should be acquitted.  Anthony L. Ng vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 173905, April 23, 2010.

Proof of public or official record kept in foreign country; general power of attorney.  On 25 March 1994, Revelen executed a General Power of Attorney constituting respondent as her attorney-in-fact and authorizing her to enter into any and all contracts and agreements on Revelen’s behalf. The General Power of Attorney was notarized by Larry A. Reid, Notary Public in California, U.S.A.  Unfortunately, the General Power of Attorney presented as “Exhibit C” in the RTC cannot also be the basis of respondent’s written authority to sell the lot.  Section 25, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 25. Proof of public or official record. — An official record or an entry therein, when admissible for any purpose, may be evidenced by an official publication thereof or by a copy attested by the officer having the legal custody of the record, or by his deputy, and accompanied, if the record is not kept in the Philippines, with a certificate that such officer has the custody. If the office in which the record is kept is in a foreign country, the certificate may be made by a secretary of embassy or legation consul general, consul, vice consul, or consular agent or by any officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept, and authenticated by the seal of his office.

In Teoco v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, quoting Lopez v. Court of Appeals, we explained:

From the foregoing provision, when the special power of attorney is executed and acknowledged before a notary public or other competent official in a foreign country, it cannot be admitted in evidence unless it is certified as such in accordance with the foregoing provision of the rules by a secretary of embassy or legation, consul general, consul, vice consul, or consular agent or by any officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept of said public document and authenticated by the seal of his office. A city judge-notary who notarized the document, as in this case, cannot issue such certification.

Since the General Power of Attorney was executed and acknowledged in the United States of America, it cannot be admitted in evidence unless it is certified as such in accordance with the Rules of Court by an officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the United States of America. Hence, this document has no probative value.  Sps. Joselina Alcantara and Antonio Alcantara, et al. vs. Brigida L. Nido, as attorney-in-fact of Revelen Srivastava, G.R. No. 165133, April 19, 2010.

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