January 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law

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

Civil Procedure

Appeal; factual findings of administrative agencies. We stress the settled rule that the findings of fact of administrative bodies, such as the SEC, will not be interfered with by the courts in the absence of grave abuse of discretion on the part of said agencies, or unless the aforementioned findings are not supported by substantial evidence.  These factual findings carry even more weight when affirmed by the CA.  They are accorded not only great respect but even finality, and are binding upon this Court, unless it is shown that the administrative body had arbitrarily disregarded or misapprehended evidence before it to such an extent as to compel a contrary conclusion had such evidence been properly appreciated.  By reason of the special knowledge and expertise of administrative agencies over matters falling under their jurisdiction, they are in a better position to pass judgment thereon. A review of the petition does not show any reversible error committed by the appellate court; hence, the petition must be denied.  Petitioner failed to present any argument that would convince the Court that the SEC and the CA made any misappreciation of the facts and the applicable laws such that their decisions should be overturned. Catmon Sales International Corporation vs. Atty. Manuel D. Yngson, Jr. as Liquidator of Catmon Sales International Corporation, G.R. No. 179761, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of administrative agencies. No matter how hard it tries to learn the technical intricacies of certain highly regulated human activities, the Supreme Court will always be inadequately equipped to identify the facts that matter when resolving issues involving such activities.  Invariably, the Court must respect the factual findings of administrative agencies which have expertise on matters that fall within their jurisdiction.  Here, since the HLURB has the expertise in applying zonal classifications on specific properties and since petitioner GEA fails to make out a clear case that it has erred, the Court must rely on its finding that respondent EGI’s land site does not, for the purpose of applying height restrictions, adjoin an R-1 zone. Greenhills East Association, Inc. vs. E. Ganzon, Inc., G.R. No. 169741, January 22, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower courts. In the case at bench, the issues raised by the petitioners are essentially factual matters, the determination of which are best left to the courts below.  Well-settled is the rule that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts.  Factual findings of the lower courts are entitled to great weight and respect on appeal, and in fact accorded finality when supported by substantial evidence on the record. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence.  It is that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise.  But to erase any doubt on the correctness of the assailed ruling, we have carefully perused the records and, nonetheless, arrived at the same conclusion.  We find that there is substantial evidence on record to support the Court of Appeals and trial court’s conclusion that the signatures of Julian and Guillerma in the Deed of Absolute Sale were forged. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower courts. Conclusions and findings of fact by the trial court are entitled to great weight on appeal and should not be disturbed unless for strong and cogent reasons because the trial court is in a better position to examine real evidence, as well as to observe the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying in the case.  The fact that the CA adopted the findings of fact of the trial court makes the same binding upon this court.  In Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, we held that factual findings of the CA which are supported by substantial evidence are binding, final and conclusive upon the Supreme Court.  A departure from this rule may be warranted where the findings of fact of the CA are contrary to the findings and conclusions of the trial court, or when the same is unsupported by the evidence on record.  There is no ground to apply the exception in the instant case, however, because the findings and conclusions of the CA are in full accord with those of the trial court. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales v. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower courts. Petitioner likewise faults the CA in giving full credence to the Sheriff’s Partial Return dated May 5, 2004 stating that respondent DKS had already turned over possession of subject premises to the government.  Suffice it to state, though, that this matter is factual in nature and is beyond the scope of a petition for review on certiorari.  The resolution of factual issues is the function of lower courts, whose findings on these matters are received with respect and considered binding by the Supreme Court subject only to certain exceptions, none of which is present in this instant petition.  This is especially true when the findings of the RTC have been affirmed by the CA as in this case. Philippine National Bank v. DKS International, Inc. and Michael Dy, G.R. No. 179161, January 22, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower court. The core issue for our resolution is whether the CA erred in giving credence to the deed of sale dated April 26, 1982 and in holding that respondents are the owners of the disputed lots.  This Court is not bound to weigh all over again the evidence adduced by the parties, particularly where the findings of both the trial court and the appellate court coincide.  The resolution of factual issues is a function of the trial court whose findings on these matters are, as a general rule, binding on this Court, more so where these have been affirmed by the CA.  We have thoroughly reviewed the records of this case and agree that the deed of sale dated April 26, 1982 is a legal and binding document. The testimonies of the witnesses to the document attest to the parties freely signing the document and the occurrence of the transaction in a clear and definite manner. Moreover, it is a notarized document which renders it a prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein.  In the absence of documents or testimonies from disinterested persons proving petitioner’s claim of a fictitious sale, there is no basis to set aside the deed of sale.  In petitions for review on certiorari, the jurisdiction of this Court is limited to the review and revision of errors of law allegedly committed by the appellate court inasmuch as the latter’s findings of fact are deemed conclusive.  Given that the facts of this case, as gleaned from the records, fully support the decision of the trial court and the CA, we see no valid reason to overturn the findings of the courts below and therefore sustain the judgment of the appellate court. Bernarda CH. Osmeña vs. Nicasio CH. Osmeña, et al., G.R. No. 171911, January 26, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower court; exception. Well-settled is the rule that this Court is not a trier of facts. When supported by substantial evidence, the findings of fact of the CA are conclusive and binding with, and are not reviewable by us unless the case falls under any of the recognized exceptions.  One of the exceptions is when the findings of fact of the CA are contrary to those of the trial court or quasi-judicial agency.  In this case, the findings of fact of the CA and the DARAB are conflicting, thus we are compelled to take a look at the factual milieu of this case. Bienvenido T. Buada, et al. vs. Cement Center, Inc., G.R. No. 180374. January 22, 2010.

Appeal; scope of review. Lastly, petitioner prays in the alternative that respondents be ordered to pay the monetary award as contained in the RTC decision.  We cannot, however, grant such relief as again, this is beyond our competence in this petition.  To reiterate, we are only confined here to reviewing errors of law allegedly committed by the CA in its assailed Decision.  Such relief should have been sought in the appeal from the main case. Philippine National Bank vs. DKS International, Inc. and Michael Dy, G.R. No. 179161, January 22, 2010.

Appeal; statutory privilege. The failure to file an appeal from the decision rendering it final and executory is not a denial of due process.  The right to appeal is not a natural right or a part of due process; it is merely a statutory privilege, and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of the law. Jaime T. Torres vs. China Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 165408, January 15, 2010.

Certiorari; claim of forum shopping where appeal taken in main case. The Florendos also point out that a special civil action of certiorari can no longer be resorted to when, as in this case, the matter raised in such action may be deemed already covered by the appeal that respondent Paramount had taken from the RTC decision.  These two remedies, they argue, are mutually exclusive and, when instituted, the second constitutes forum shopping.  There is no forum shopping in this case.  What respondent Paramount imputes in the certiorari action is the RTC’s grave abuse of discretion in allowing the execution pending appeal of its decision.  In the ordinary appeal from the main case, what Paramount challenges is the merit of the trial court’s decision. Rosario T. Florendo vs. Paramount Insurance Corp., G.R. No. 167976, January 21, 2010.

Certiorari; generally not available to review final judgment on merits. The CA ruled that there was nothing novel about a petition for certiorari being filed with that court when the act or omission complained of involved grave abuse of discretion or excess of jurisdiction.  This Court must disagree.  In determining whether the proper remedy is a special civil action for certiorari or a petition for review, it is not so much the nature of the question or questions that would be raised that matters.  With very rare exceptions, what is decisive is whether or not the challenged order is a final order that disposes of the merit of the case.  The Court held in Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Jancom Environmental Corp. that the remedy for seeking the reversal or modification of a judgment rendered on the merits of the case is appeal.  This is true even if the error imputed to the officer, body, or tribunal constitutes alleged lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case or grave abuse of discretion in making its or his findings of fact or of law.  The Court cannot countenance the blurring of the distinction between a special civil action for certiorari and a petition for review. [Note: this case involved a special civil action for certiorari filed in the Court of Appeals to question a decision of the Civil Service CommissionDepartment of Labor and Employment, et al. vs. Ruben Y Maceda, G.R. No. 185112, January 18, 2010.

Certiorari; grave abuse of discretion. Besides, it cannot be said that the CSC [Commission on Civil Service] gravely abused its discretion in dismissing respondent Maceda’s complaint.  Grave abuse of discretion exists where the public respondent acts in a manner so patent and gross that it amounts to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to do what the law enjoins on him.  It is not sufficient that the CA disagreed with the findings of the CSC or considered them in error; it had to determine that the CSC’s findings had run berserk, prompted by passion and personal hostility rather than by reason.  The CA did not make this determination. (Department of Labor and Employment, et al. vs. Ruben Y Maceda, G.R. No. 185112, January 18, 2010.

Certiorari; grave abuse of discretion. It is well to remind petitioner that the sole issue raised before the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 88098, is whether or not the RTC gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction when it recalled the writ of execution with break open order.  By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.  The abuse of discretion must be grave as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility and must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined by or to act at all in contemplation of law. Grave abuse of discretion refers not merely to palpable errors of jurisdiction or to violations of the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence.  It refers also to cases in which, for various reasons, there has been gross misapprehension of facts.  We find that the CA correctly took notice of the government’s take-over and repossession of the subject property, as these are the very same facts which the RTC considered to be the reasons why the writ of execution with break open order it earlier issued cannot anymore be implemented. Without discussing these issues, the CA would not be able to make a determination whether the recall of the writ of execution was proper under the circumstances.  Such an assessment is imperative because the resolution of the issue of whether or not the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion hinges on it. Philippine National Bank vs. DKS International, Inc. and Michael Dy, G.R. No. 179161, January 22, 2010.

Certiorari; motion for reconsideration. The Florendos argue that the CA should not have taken cognizance of respondent Paramount’s special civil action of certiorari considering its failure to first seek the RTC’s reconsideration of its questioned special order.  The general rule is of course that a motion for reconsideration of the challenged order is a prerequisite to the filing of a special civil action of certiorari in a higher court to annul such order.  This gives the lower court a chance to correct the errors imputed to it.  But one of the exceptions to such requirement is where the matter involved is urgent.  Here, the CA correctly dispensed with the requirement since the RTC had already issued a writ of execution and so its enforcement was imminent.  Besides, the issue of the validity of the execution pending appeal in this case was a pure question of law. (Rosario T. Florendo vs. Paramount Insurance Corp., G.R. No. 167976, January 21, 2010.

Certiorari; motion for reconsideration. Settled is the rule that a special civil action for certiorari can prosper only if the aggrieved party has no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, such as a motion for reconsideration, so as to allow the lower court to correct its alleged error.  Respondents did not move for the reconsideration of the May 25, 2004 decision of the RTC. Considering that the RTC leniently granted respondents’ motions for extension to file an answer, it did not render the assailed order and decision arbitrarily by reason of personal hostility.  Thus, a motion for reconsideration, if meritorious, was not useless.  Consequently, the petition for certiorari should have been dismissed outright for respondent’s failure to file a motion for reconsideration. Juanito Geronimo, et al. vs. The Heirs of Carlito Geronimo represented by Angelito Geronimo, G.R. No. 169858, January 26, 2010.

Certiorari; period to file. Considering that the motion for reconsideration dated August 17, 2001 denied by the order dated February 11, 2002 was in reality and effect a prohibited second motion for reconsideration vis-à-vis the orders dated October 21, 1999 and October 8, 1999, the assailed orders dated July 30, 2001, October 21, 1999, and October 8, 1999 could no longer be subject to attack by certiorari.  Thus, the petition for certiorari filed only in March 2002 was already improper and tardy for being made beyond the 60-day limitation defined in Section 4, Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, which requires a petition for certiorari to be filed “not later than sixty (60) days from notice of the judgment, order or resolution,” or, in case a motion for reconsideration or new trial is timely filed, whether such motion is required or not, “the sixty (60) day period shall be counted from notice of the denial of  the said motion.”  It is worth emphasizing that the 60-day limitation is considered inextendible, because the limitation has been prescribed to avoid any unreasonable delay that violates the constitutional rights of parties to a speedy disposition of their cases.  (Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Contempt; application for indirect contempt. Indeed, a person may be charged with indirect contempt only by either of two alternative ways, namely: (1) by a verified petition, if initiated by a party; or (2) by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt, if made by a court against which the contempt is committed. In short, a charge of indirect contempt must be initiated through a verified petition, unless the charge is directly made by the court against which the contemptuous act is committed.  Justice Regalado has explained why the requirement of the filing of a verified petition for contempt is mandatory:

This new provision clarifies with a regulatory norm the proper procedure for commencing contempt proceedings.  While such proceeding has been classified as a special civil action under the former Rules, the heterogeneous practice, tolerated by the courts, has been for any party to file a mere motion without paying any docket or lawful fees therefor and without complying with the requirements for initiatory pleadings, which is now required in the second paragraph of this amended section. Worse, and as a consequence of unregulated motions for contempt, said incidents sometimes remain pending for resolution although the main case has already been decided. There are other undesirable aspects but, at any rate, the same may now be eliminated by this amendatory procedure.

Henceforth, except for indirect contempt proceedings initiated motu proprio by order of or a formal charge by the offended court, all charges shall be commenced by a verified petition with full compliance with the requirements therefor and shall be disposed of in accordance with the second paragraph of this section.

Clearly, the petitioner’s charging GSIS, et al. with indirect contempt by mere motions was not permitted by the Rules of Court. (Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Contempt; filing fees for indirect contempt application. And, secondly, even assuming that charges for contempt could be initiated by motion, the petitioner should have tendered filing fees.  The need to tender filing fees derived from the fact that the procedure for indirect contempt under Rule 71, Rules of Court was an independent special civil action.  Yet, the petitioner did not tender and pay filing fees, resulting in the trial court not acquiring jurisdiction over the action.  Truly, the omission to tender filing fees would have also warranted the dismissal of the charges.  It seems to be indubitable from the foregoing that the petitioner initiated the charges for indirect contempt without regard to the requisites of the Rules of Court simply to vex the adverse party. He thereby disrespected the orderly administration of justice and committed, yet again, an abuse of procedures. Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Ejectment; supersedeas bond. Petitioner next contends that the writ of execution with break open order was abruptly recalled without respondents complying with the mandatory requirements of Sec. 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court.  Petitioner stresses that in order to stay the immediate execution of a judgment in an ejectment case while an appeal is pending, the defendant must perfect his appeal, file a supersedeas bond and periodically deposit the rentals which became due during the pendency of the appeal.  But despite the failure of respondents to post the required supersedeas bond, the CA still affirmed the recall of the issuance of the writ of execution with break open order.  Petitioner’s contention fails to persuade us.  Sec. 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court is not applicable in this case.  In Uy v. Santiago, we held that it is only the execution of the MeTC or Municipal Trial Courts’ judgment pending appeal with the RTC which may be stayed by compliance with the requisites provided in Section 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court.  This can be deduced from the wordings of the subject provision, to wit:

Section 19. Immediate execution of judgment; how to stay same.- If judgment is rendered against the defendant, execution shall issue immediately upon motion, unless an appeal has been perfected and the defendant to stay execution files a sufficient supersedeas bond, approved by the Municipal Trial Court and executed in favor of the plaintiff to pay the rents, damages, and costs accruing down to the time of the judgment appealed from, and unless, during the pendency of the appeal, he deposits with the appellate court the amount of rent due from time to time under the contract, if any, as determined by the judgment of the Municipal Trial Court. In the absence of a contract, he shall deposit with the Regional Trial Court the reasonable value of the use and occupation of the premises for the preceding month or period at the rate determined by the judgment of the lower court on or before the tenth day of each succeeding month or period. The supersedeas bond shall be transmitted by the Municipal Trial Court, with the other papers, to the clerk of the Regional Trial Court to which the action is appealed.  XXX  XXX  XXX

This is not the situation here.  Respondents are not staying the execution of the judgment of the MeTC pending appeal to the RTC as the latter court, in fact, had already rendered its judgment on the appeal.  Clearly, the above-quoted provision does not find any application in the present petition. Philippine National Bank vs. DKS International, Inc. and Michael Dy, G.R. No. 179161, January 22, 2010.

Execution; recall of writ of execution with break open order. This, notwithstanding a review of the record, nevertheless shows that the CA was correct in holding that the RTC did not commit grave abuse of discretion or act in excess of its jurisdiction in issuing the order which recalled the writ of execution with break open order.  By virtue of the Decisions of the MeTC and the RTC which both ruled in favor of petitioner in the subject forcible entry case, petitioner was indeed, as a matter of right, entitled to a writ of execution pursuant to Sec. 21, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court.  Thus, the RTC ordered the issuance of a writ of execution with break open in the dispositive portion of its March 10, 2004 Decision.  But before said writ could be implemented, inescapable material facts and circumstances were brought to the attention of the RTC.  The respondents had already surrendered possession of the subject premises to the government.  Clearly, the portion of the Decision ordering respondents to vacate the subject property and peacefully surrender possession thereof to petitioner has become impossible to implement.  For how can respondents surrender possession of the premises when they were no longer in possession?  And, as correctly observed by the RTC, it would be a misstep if the government which is admittedly the owner of the subject property and which was not a party to the ejectment case, would be ordered to vacate the same in order that possession thereof may be delivered to petitioner. We thus hold that under these circumstances, the recall of the writ of execution with break open order was warranted. (Philippine National Bank vs. DKS International, Inc. and Michael Dy, G.R. No. 179161, January 22, 2010.

Execution pending appeal. What is more, on October 28, 2008 the CA decided in the main case to reverse and set aside the decision of the RTC, dismiss the Florendos’ complaint, and order the issuance of new titles to the lands in the name of respondent Paramount.  Assuming that such decision has not yet become final, the RTC decision subject of execution pending appeal has nonetheless already lost its presumptive validity.  This development gives the Court all the more reason to affirm the CA decision subject of the present petition. Rosario T. Florendo vs. Paramount Insurance Corp., G.R. No. 167976, January 21, 2010.

Execution pending appeal; posting of bond. Lastly, the Florendos’ posting of a P4 million bond to answer for the damages that respondent Paramount might suffer in case the RTC decision is reversed on appeal is quite insufficient.  The lands had a market value of P42 million in 2001. Rosario T. Florendo vs. Paramount Insurance Corp., G.R. No. 167976, January 21, 2010.

Execution pending appeal; requirement of “special and good reasons”. The Florendos insist that the CA erred in rejecting as reasonable basis for execution pending appeal a) Rosario’s old age, given that precedents exist for such justification; b) respondent Paramount’s delaying tactics and its possible insolvency; and c) the P4 million bond that the Florendos posted.  Normally, execution will issue as a matter of right only (a) when the judgment has become final and executory; (b) when the judgment debtor has renounced or waived his right of appeal; (c) when the period for appeal has lapsed without an appeal having been filed; or (d) when, having been filed, the appeal has been resolved and the records of the case have been returned to the court of origin.  Execution pending appeal is the exception to the general rule.  As such exception, the court’s discretion in allowing it must be strictly construed and firmly grounded on the existence of good reasons.  “Good reasons,” it has been held, consist of compelling circumstances that justify immediate execution lest the judgment becomes illusory.  The circumstances must be superior, outweighing the injury or damages that might result should the losing party secure a reversal of the judgment.  Lesser reasons would make of execution pending appeal, instead of an instrument of solicitude and justice, a tool of oppression and inequity.  The Florendos point out that Rosario is already in her old age and suffers from life threatening ailments.  But the trial court has allowed execution pending appeal for all of the Florendos, not just for Rosario whose share in the subject lands had not been established.  No claim is made that the rest of the Florendos are old and ailing.  Consequently, the execution pending appeal was indiscreet and too sweeping.   All the lands could be sold for P42 million, the value mentioned in the petition, and distributed to all the Florendos for their enjoyment with no sufficient assurance that they all will and can return such sum in case the CA reverses, as it has in fact done, the RTC decision.  Moreover, it is unclear how much of the proceeds of the sale of the lands Rosario needed for her old age. The RTC also justified the execution pending appeal on respondent Paramount’s delaying tactics and the possibility that it could become insolvent during the appeal.  But these justifications are purely speculative.  The RTC has already decided the case and whether the proceedings on appeal will be delayed is not in the hands of Paramount.  The CA has control of the time elements in appealed cases.  As for the Florendos’ fear of Paramount’s insolvency, such is wholly irrelevant since the judgment did not require it to pay them any form of damages.  Indeed, the Florendos are the ones required by the RTC to reimburse Paramount the value of its bid and the amounts of real estate taxes that it had paid on the properties. Rosario T. Florendo vs. Paramount Insurance Corp., G.R. No. 167976, January 21, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; computation of period. Anent the redemption of property sold in an extrajudicial foreclosure sale made pursuant to the special power referred to in Section 1 of Act No. 3135, as amended, the debtor, his successor-in-interest, or any judicial creditor or judgment creditor of said debtor, or any person having a lien on the property subsequent to the mortgage or deed of trust under which the property is sold has the right to redeem the property at anytime within the term of one year from and after the date of the sale, such redemption to be governed  by  the  provisions  of  Section  464  to Section 466 of the Code of Civil Procedure, to the extent that said provisions were not inconsistent with the provisions of Act 3135.  In this regard, we clarify that the redemption period envisioned under Act 3135 is reckoned from the date of the registration of the sale, not from and after the date of the sale, as the text of Act 3135 shows.  Although the original Rules of Court (effective on July 1, 1940) incorporated Section 464 to Section 466 of the Code of Civil Procedure as its Section 25 (Section 464); Section 26 (Section 465); and Section 27 (Section 466) of Rule 39, with Section 27 still expressly reckoning the redemption period to be “at any time within twelve months after the sale;” and although the Revised Rules of Court (effective on January 1, 1964) continued to provide in Section 30 of Rule 39 that the redemption be made from the purchaser “at any  time within twelve (12) months after the sale,” the 12-month period of redemption came to be held as beginning “to run not from the date of the sale but from the time of registration of the sale in the Office of the Register of Deeds.”  This construction was due to the fact that the sheriff’s sale of registered (and unregistered) lands did not take effect as a conveyance, or did not bind the land, until the sale was registered in the Register of Deeds.  Desiring to avoid any confusion arising from the conflict between the texts of the Rules of Court (1940 and 1964) and Act No. 3135, on one hand, and the jurisprudence clarifying the reckoning of the redemption period in judicial sales of real property, on the other hand, the Court has incorporated in Section 28 of Rule 39 of the current Rules of Court (effective on July 1, 1997) the foregoing judicial construction of reckoning the redemption period from the date of the registration of the certificate of sale, to wit:

Sec. 28. Time and manner of, and amounts payable on, successive redemptions; notice to be given and filed. — The judgment obligor, or redemptioner, may redeem the property from the purchaser, at any time within one (1) year from the date of the registration of the certificate of sale, by paying the purchaser the amount of his purchase, with one per centum per month interest thereon in addition, up to the time of redemption, together with the amount of any assessments or taxes which the purchaser may have paid thereon after purchase, and interest on such last named amount at the same rate; and if the purchaser be also a creditor having a prior lien to that of the redemptioner, other than the judgment under which such purchase was made, the amount of such other lien, with interest. XXX  XXX  XXX.

Accordingly, the mortgagor or his successor-in-interest must redeem the foreclosed property within one year from the registration of the sale with the Register of Deeds in order to avoid the title from consolidating in the purchaser.  By failing to redeem thuswise, the mortgagor loses all interest over the foreclosed property.  The purchaser, who has a right to possession that extends beyond the expiration of the redemption period, becomes the absolute owner of the property when no redemption is made, that it is no longer necessary for the purchaser to file the bond required under Section 7 of Act No. 3135, as amended, considering that the possession of the land becomes his absolute right as the land’s confirmed owner. Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Forum-shopping. By forum shopping, a party initiates two or more actions in separate tribunals, grounded on the same cause, trusting that one or the other tribunal would favorably dispose of the matter.  The elements of forum shopping are the same as in litis pendentia where the final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in the other.  The elements of forum shopping are: (1) identity of parties, or at least such parties as would represent the same interest in both actions; (2) identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (3) identity of the two preceding particulars such that any judgment rendered in the other action will, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in the action under consideration.  Here, however, the various suits Fidela initiated against Evelina and Aida involved different causes of action and sought different reliefs.  The present civil action that she filed with the RTC sought to recover possession of the property based on Evelina and Aida’s failure to account for its fruits. The estafa cases she filed with the RTC accused the two of misappropriating and converting her share in the harvests for their own benefit.  Her complaint for dispossession under Republic Act 8048 with the DARAB sought to dispossess the two for allegedly cutting coconut trees without the prior authority of Fidela or of the Philippine Coconut Authority.  The above cases are similar only in that they involved the same parties and Fidela sought the placing of the properties under receivership in all of them.  But receivership is not an action.  It is but an auxiliary remedy, a mere incident of the suit to help achieve its purpose.  Consequently, it cannot be said that the grant of receivership in one case will amount to res judicata on the merits of the other cases.  The grant or denial of this provisional remedy will still depend on the need for it in the particular action. Evelina G. Chavez, et al. vs. Court of Appeals and Atty. Fidela Y. Vargas, G.R. No. 174356, January 20, 2010.

Judgments; doctrine of immutability. A judgment that has become final and executory is immutable and unalterable; the judgment may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by the highest Court of the land.  While there are recognized exceptions – e.g., the correction of clerical errors, the so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party, void judgments, and whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable – none of these exceptions apply to the present case.  Litigation must at some time end, even at the risk of occasional errors.  Public policy dictates that once a judgment becomes final, executory and unappealable, the prevailing party should not be denied the fruits of his victory by some subterfuge devised by the losing party.  Unjustified delay in the enforcement of a judgment sets at naught the role and purpose of the courts to resolve justiciable controversies with finality.  In the present case, the lapse of the period for appeal rendered the RTC without any jurisdiction to entertain, much less grant, the plaintiffs-respondents’ appeal from the final and immutable MCTC judgment.  This very basic legal reality would forever be lost if we allow the CA to dismiss the defendants-petitioners’ appeal outright on the basis of a technicality that, after all, has been substantially complied with.  Sps. Heber & Charlita Edillo vs. Sps. Norberto & Desideria Dulpina, G.R. No. 188360, January 21, 2010.

Mandamus; nature and grounds. Mandamus is a command issuing from a court of law of competent jurisdiction, in the name of the state or the sovereign, directed to some inferior court, tribunal, or board, or to some corporation or person requiring the performance of a particular duty therein specified, which duty results from the official station of the party to whom the writ is directed or from operation of law.  This definition recognizes the public character of the remedy, and clearly excludes the idea that it may be resorted to for the purpose of enforcing the performance of duties in which the public has no interest.  The writ is a proper recourse for citizens who seek to enforce a public right and to compel the performance of a public duty, most especially when the public right involved is mandated by the Constitution.  As the quoted provision instructs, mandamus will lie if the tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act which the law enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station.              The writ of mandamus, however, will not issue to compel an official to do anything which is not his duty to do or which it is his duty not to do, or to give to the applicant anything to which he is not entitled by law.  Nor will mandamus issue to enforce a right which is in substantial dispute or as to which a substantial doubt exists, although objection raising a mere technical question will be disregarded if the right is clear and the case is meritorious.  As a rule, mandamus will not lie in the absence of any of the following grounds: [a] that the court, officer, board, or person against whom the action is taken unlawfully neglected the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from office, trust, or station; or [b] that such court, officer, board, or person has unlawfully excluded petitioner/relator from the use and enjoyment of a right or office to which he is entitled.  On the part of the relator, it is essential to the issuance of a writ of mandamus that he should have a clear l  egal right to the thing demanded and it must be the imperative duty of respondent to perform the act required. Uy Kiao Eng vs. Nixon Lee, G.R. No. 176831, January 15, 2010.

Mandamus; nature. Recognized further in this jurisdiction is the principle that mandamus cannot be used to enforce contractual obligations.  Generally, mandamus will not lie to enforce purely private contract rights, and will not lie against an individual unless some  obligation  in  the  nature  of a public or quasi-public duty is imposed.  The writ is not appropriate to enforce a private right against an individual. The writ of mandamus lies to enforce the execution of an act, when, otherwise, justice would be obstructed; and, regularly, issues only in cases relating to the public and to the government; hence, it is called a prerogative writ. To preserve its prerogative character, mandamus is not used for the redress of private wrongs, but only in matters relating to the public.  Moreover, an important principle followed in the issuance of the writ is that there should be no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law other than the remedy of mandamus being invoked.  In other words, mandamus can be issued only in cases where the usual modes of procedure and forms of remedy are powerless to afford relief. Although classified as a legal remedy, mandamus is equitable in its nature and its issuance is generally controlled by equitable principles.  Indeed, the grant of the writ of mandamus lies in the sound discretion of the court. Uy Kiao Eng vs. Nixon Lee, G.R. No. 176831, January 15, 2010.

Parties; misjoinder not ground for dismissal. Misjoinder of parties does not warrant the dismissal of the action.  Rule 3, Section 11 of the Rules of Court clearly provides: “Sec. 11.              Misjoinder and non-joinder of parties. — Neither misjoinder nor non-joinder of parties is ground for dismissal of an action. Parties may be dropped or added by order of the court on motion of any party or on its own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just.  Any claim against a misjoined party may be severed and proceeded with separately.”               It bears stressing that TCT No. T-56923, covering the subject property, was issued in the name of Dorotea. This is established by the record, and petitioners themselves admit this fact.  However, because TCT No. T-75454, allegedly issued in favor of Littie Sarah, and the purported deed of sale, allegedly executed by Dorotea in favor of Littie Sarah, are not on record. Considering the allegations in the pleadings, it is best that a trial on the merits be conducted.               We fully agree with the apt and judicious ruling of the CA, when it said: “As the former owner of the subject property, the same having been titled in her name under TCT No. T-56923, Dorotea Cariaga Bonete, being the real party [in] interest, has the legal capacity to file the instant case for reconveyance and annulment of deed of sale.  The complaint was filed by the [respondents] precisely to question the issuance of TCT No. T-75454 in the name of Littie Sarah Agdeppa as the transaction allegedly contemplated was only to secure Dorotea’s loan.  Why the property became the subject of the deed of sale which is being disputed by Dorotea should be threshed out in a full-blown trial on the merits in order to afford the contending parties their respective days in court.  As held in Del Bros.  Hotel Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 210 SCRA 33, the complaint is not supposed to contain evidentiary matters as this will have to be done at the trial on the merits of the case.” Littie Sarah A. Agdeppa, et al. vs. Heirs of Ignacio Benete, represented by Doroteo Bonete, et al., G.R. No. 164436. January 15, 2010.

Petition for relief; remedy for allegations of counsel’s mistake or inexcusable negligence. Further, the proper remedy for allegations of mistake or inexcusable negligence of counsel, which prevented a party from taking an appeal, is a petition for relief under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court.  The petition must be filed within 60 days after the petitioner learns of the judgment, final order, or other proceeding to be set aside, and not more than six (6) months after such judgment or final order was entered.  It must be filed within the reglementary period, which is reckoned from the time the party’s counsel receives notice of the decision for notice to counsel of the decision is notice to the party.  Since the Decision of the Court of Appeals became final and executory and Entry of Judgment was issued on November 30, 2001, the Decision can no longer be reviewed by this Court.  Hence, the third and fourth issues raised need not be discussed. Jaime T. Torres vs. China Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 165408, January 15, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal construction. A liberal construction of the Rules is apt in situations involving excusable formal errors in a pleading, as long as the same do not subvert the essence of the proceeding, and they connote at least a reasonable attempt at compliance with the Rules.  The Court is not precluded from rectifying errors of judgment, if blind and stubborn adherence to procedure would result in the sacrifice of substantial justice for technicality. To deprive respondents, particularly Dorotea, of their claims over the subject property on the strength of sheer technicality would be a travesty of justice and equity. Littie Sarah A. Agdeppa, et al. vs. Heirs of Ignacio Benete, represented by Doroteo Bonete, et al., G.R. No. 164436. January 15, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal construction. An appeal to the CA from an RTC Decision rendered in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction is via a Petition for Review under Rule 42 of the Revised Rules of Court. Section 2 of Rule 42 prescribes the following requirements:  XXX  XXX  XXX.  Non-compliance with these requirements is sufficient ground for the dismissal of the Petition, pursuant to Section 3 of the same Rule, which reads:  XXX  XXX  XXX.  In not a few cases, we have ruled that the right to appeal is neither a natural right nor a part of due process; it is a mere statutory privilege that may be exercised only in the manner and strictly in accordance with the provisions of law allowing the appeal.  The party who seeks to appeal must comply with the requirements of the law and the rules; failure to comply leads to the dismissal and the loss of the right to appeal.  But while we have so ruled, we recognize nonetheless that the right to appeal is an essential part of our system of judicial processes, and courts should proceed with caution in order not to deprive a party of the right to appeal.  We invariably made this recognition due to our overriding concern that every party-litigant be given the amplest opportunity to ventilate and secure the resolution of his cause, free from the constraints of technicalities.  This line of rulings is based, no less, on the Rules of Court which itself calls for a liberal construction of its provisions, with the objective of securing for the parties a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.  In this line of rulings, we have repeatedly stressed that litigation is not merely a game of technicalities.  The law and jurisprudence grant to courts – in the exercise of their discretion along the lines laid down by this Court –  the prerogative to relax compliance with procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to put an end to litigation speedily and the parties’ right to an opportunity to be heard. Sps. Heber & Charlita Edillo vs. Sps. Norberto & Desideria Dulpina, G.R. No. 188360, January 21, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal construction. A commonality and the weightier reason (although not so given this characterization) behind our rulings in these cited cases is the lack of merit of the respective petitioners’ underlying cases.  In both cases, we took into account the relative merits of the parties’ cases and found that a liberal interpretation, applied to the interlocutory issues before us, would be for naught because the petitioners’ underlying cases clearly lacked merit.  As we ruled then, so do we rule now.  We assess, albeit preliminarily, if the appeal is meritorious on its face and relax the applicable rule of procedure only after a prima facie finding of merit.  That there was substantial compliance with the Rules because the background facts can be found within the four corners of the petition and its incorporated annexes, is not a novel ruling for this Court.  In the case of Deloso v. Marapao (involving the same deficiency for lack of a specific and separate statement of facts outlining the factual background relied upon), we said:

An examination of the petition filed with the Court of Appeals reveals that while it does not contain a separate section on statement of facts, the facts of the case are, in fact, integrated in the petition particularly in the discussion/argument portion. Moreover, the decision of the DARAB which contains the facts of the case was attached to the petition and was even quoted by the appellate court. The petition also sufficiently discusses the errors committed by the DARAB in its assailed decision.

There was, therefore, substantial compliance with Sec. 6, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. 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.

Given this precedent, it only remains for us to determine if we can apply a liberal construction of the Rules because a meaningful litigation of the case can ensue given the Petition’s prima facie merit. Sps. Heber & Charlita Edillo vs. Sps. Norberto & Desideria Dulpina, G.R. No. 188360, January 21, 2010.

Receivership. In any event, we hold that the CA erred in granting receivership over the property in dispute in this case.  For one thing, a petition for receivership under Section 1(b), Rule 59 of the Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the property or fund subject of the action is in danger of being lost, removed, or materially injured, necessitating its protection or preservation.  Its object is the prevention of imminent danger to the property.  If the action does not require such protection or preservation, the remedy is not receivership.  Here Fidela’s main gripe is that Evelina and Aida deprived her of her share of the land’s produce.  She does not claim that the land or its productive capacity would disappear or be wasted if not entrusted to a receiver.  Nor does Fidela claim that the land has been materially injured, necessitating its protection and preservation.  Because receivership is a harsh remedy that can be granted only in extreme situations, Fidela must prove a clear right to its issuance.  But she has not.  Indeed, in none of the other cases she filed against Evelina and Aida has that remedy been granted her.  Besides, the RTC dismissed Fidela’s action for lack of jurisdiction over the case, holding that the issues it raised properly belong to the DARAB.  The case before the CA is but an offshoot of that RTC case.  Given that the RTC has found that it had no jurisdiction over the case, it would seem more prudent for the CA to first provisionally determine that the RTC had jurisdiction before granting receivership which is but an incident of the main action. Evelina G. Chavez, et al. vs. Court of Appeals and Atty. Fidela Y. Vargas, G.R. No. 174356, January 20, 2010.

Summary judgment; appropriate where there is no genuine issue of fact. A summary judgment is apt when the essential facts of the case are uncontested or the parties do not raise any genuine issue of fact.  Here, to resolve the issue of the excessive charges allegedly incorporated into the auction bid price, the RTC simply had to look at a) the pleadings of the parties; b) the loan agreements, the promissory note, and the real estate mortgages between them; c) the foreclosure and bidding documents; and d) the admissions and other disclosures between the parties during pre-trial.  Since the parties admitted not only the existence, authenticity, and genuine execution of these documents but also what they stated, the trial court did not need to hold a trial for the reception of the evidence of the parties.  BPI contends that a summary judgment was not proper given the following issues that the parties raised: 1) whether or not the loan agreements between them were valid and enforceable; 2) whether or not the Yus have a cause of action against BPI; 3) whether or not the Yus are proper parties in interest; 4) whether or not the Yus are estopped from questioning the foreclosure proceeding after entering into a compromise agreement with Magnacraft; 5) whether or not the penalty charges and fees and expenses of litigation and publication are excessive; and 6) whether or not BPI violated the Truth in Lending Act.  But these are issues that could be readily resolved based on the facts established by the pleadings and the admissions of the parties.  Indeed, BPI has failed to name any document or item of fact that it would have wanted to adduce at the trial of the case.  A trial would have been such a great waste of time and resources. Bank of the Philippines Islands, Inc. vs. Sps. Norman and Angelina Yu, et al., G.R. No. 184122, January 20, 2010.

Summary procedure; effect of filing prohibited motion for reconsideration. According to the defendants-petitioners, the plaintiffs-respondents’ filing of a motion for reconsideration of the MCTC judgment did not stop the running of the period for appeal since a motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading under the RRSP.  We agree with the defendants-petitioners.  Jurisdiction over forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases belongs to the Metropolitan Trial Courts, the Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, the Municipal Trial Courts, and the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts. The RRSP [Revised Rules of Summary Procedure] applies to prevent undue delays in the disposition of cases; to achieve this end, the filing of certain pleadings – a motion for reconsideration, among others – is prohibited.  Specifically, Section 19(c) of the Rules of Summary Procedure and Section 13(c) of Rule 70 of the Rules of Court consider a motion for reconsideration of a judgment a prohibited pleading.  Thus, when the plaintiffs-respondents filed on June 5, 2007 a Motion for Reconsideration of the MCTC Judgment, the motion did not stop the running of the period for appeal. With the continuous running of this period, the May 23, 2007 MCTC judgment (which the plaintiffs-respondents received through counsel on May 31, 2007) had long lapsed to finality when the plaintiffs-respondents filed their Notice of Appeal on July 30, 2007. Sps. Heber & Charlita Edillo vs. Sps. Norberto & Desideria Dulpina, G.R. No. 188360, January 21, 2010.

Writ of possession; nature and instances of issuance. We sustain the CA, and confirm that the petitioner, as defaulting mortgagor, was not entitled under Act 3135, as amended, and its pertinent jurisprudence to any prior notice of the application for the issuance of the writ of possession.  A writ of possession, which commands the sheriff to place a person in possession of real property, may be issued in: (1) land registration proceedings under Section 17 of Act No. 496; (2) judicial foreclosure, provided the debtor is in possession of the mortgaged property, and no third person, not a party to the foreclosure suit, had intervened; (3) extrajudicial foreclosure of a real estate mortgage, pending redemption under Section 7 of Act No. 3135, as amended by Act No. 4118; and (4) execution sales, pursuant to the last paragraph of Section 33, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court.  Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Writ of possession; nature of proceedings for issuance. The consolidation of ownership in the purchaser’s name and the issuance to him of a new TCT then entitles him to demand possession of the property at any time, and the issuance of a writ of possession to him becomes a matter of right upon the consolidation of title in his name.  The court can neither halt nor hesitate to issue the writ of possession. It cannot exercise any discretion to determine whether or not to issue the writ, for the issuance of the writ to the purchaser in an extrajudicial foreclosure sale becomes a ministerial function.  XXX  XXX  XXX.  The proceeding upon an application for a writ of possession is ex parte and summary in nature, brought for the benefit of one party only and without notice being sent by the court to any person adverse in interest.  The relief is granted even without giving an opportunity to be heard to the person against whom the relief is sought.  Its nature as an ex parte petition under Act No. 3135, as amended, renders the application for the issuance of a writ of possession a non-litigious proceeding.  It is clear from the foregoing that a non-redeeming mortgagor like the petitioner had no more right to challenge the issuance of the writ of execution cum writ of possession upon the ex parte application of GSIS.  He could not also impugn anymore the extrajudicial foreclosure, and could not undo the consolidation in GSIS of the ownership of the properties covered by TCT No. 284272-R and TCT No. 284273-R, which consolidation was already irreversible.  Hence, his moves against the writ of execution cum writ of possession were tainted by bad faith, for he was only too aware, being his own lawyer, of the dire consequences of his non-redemption within the period provided by law for that purpose.  Eligio P. Mallari vs. Government Service Insurance System and the Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga, G.R. No. 157659, January 25, 2010.

Special Proceedings

Mandamus; unavailable where other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy is available (e.g., allowance of will). In the instant case, the Court, without unnecessarily ascertaining whether the obligation involved here—the production of the original holographic will—is in the nature of a public or a private duty, rules that the remedy of mandamus cannot be availed of by respondent Lee because there lies another plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.  Let it be noted that respondent has a photocopy of the will and that he seeks the production of the original for purposes of probate.  The Rules of Court, however, does not prevent him from instituting probate proceedings for the allowance of the will whether the same is in his possession or not. Rule 76, Section 1 relevantly provides:

Section 1. Who may petition for the allowance of will.—Any executor, devisee, or legatee named in a will, or any other person interested in the estate, may, at any time, after the death of the testator, petition the court having jurisdiction to have the will allowed, whether the same be in his possession or not, or is lost or destroyed.

An adequate remedy is further provided by Rule 75, Sections 2 to 5, for the production of the original holographic will. Thus—

SEC. 2. Custodian of will to deliver.—The person who has custody of  a  will  shall, within  twenty (20)  days  after  he  knows  of  the death of the testator, deliver the will to the court having jurisdiction, or to the executor named in the will.

SEC. 3. Executor to present will and accept or refuse trust.—A person named as executor in a will shall within twenty (20) days after he knows of the death of the testator, or within twenty (20) days after he knows that he is named executor if he obtained such knowledge after the death of the testator, present such will to the court having jurisdiction, unless the will has reached the court in any other manner, and shall, within such period, signify to the court in writing his acceptance of the trust or his refusal to accept it.

SEC. 4. Custodian and executor subject to fine for neglect.—A person who neglects any of the duties required in the two last preceding sections without excuse satisfactory to the court shall be fined not exceeding two thousand pesos.

SEC. 5. Person retaining will may be committed.—A person having custody of a will after the death of the testator who neglects without reasonable cause to deliver the same, when ordered so to do, to the court having jurisdiction, may be committed to prison and there kept until he delivers the will.

There being a plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law for the production of the subject will, the remedy of mandamus cannot be availed of.  Suffice it to state that respondent Lee lacks a cause of action in his petition.  Thus, the Court grants the demurrer. Uy Kiao Eng v. Nixon Lee, G.R. No. 176831, January 15, 2010.

Other proceedings

Appeal; effect of failure to appeal. For his part, respondent prayed in his Comment that, in addition to his liquidation fee already awarded in his favor, his claim for reimbursement of administrative expenses be granted.  We answer in the negative.  This Court’s ruling in Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. v. Garcia is instructive: “It is well-settled that a party who has not appealed from a decision cannot seek any relief other than what is provided in the judgment appealed from.  An appellee who has himself not appealed may not obtain from the appellate court any affirmative relief other than the ones granted in the decision of the court below.  The appellee can only advance any argument that he may deem necessary to defeat the appellant’s claim or to uphold the decision that is being disputed, and he can assign errors in his brief if such is required to strengthen the views expressed by the court a quo.  These assigned errors in turn may be considered by the appellate court solely to maintain the appealed decision on other grounds, but not for the purpose of reversing or modifying the judgment in the appellee’s favor and giving him other reliefs.”  As aptly observed by the CA, respondent did not appeal the SEC decision.  Thus, the decision of the CA on the amount due the respondent has become final as to him, and can no longer be reviewed, much less be reversed, by this Court. Catmon Sales International Corporation vs. Atty. Manuel D. Yngson, Jr. as Liquidator of Catmon Sales International Corporation, G.R. No. 179761, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; perfection of administrative appeal. Petitioner GEA contends that it had already perfected its appeal when it filed on November 20, 2001 a notice of appeal with the OP from the decision of the HLURB.  The Rules and Regulations Governing Appeals to the Office of the President of the Philippines requires the appellant to file, not only a notice of appeal, but also a memorandum on appeal that must, among other things, state the grounds relied on for the appeal, the issues involved, and the reliefs sought.  The appellant must, to perfect his appeal, comply with these requirements within 15 days from receipt of a copy of the HLURB decision.  Petitioner GEA, however, failed to submit an appeal memorandum.  Still, the OP actually gave petitioner GEA a chance to comply with the omitted requirement by directing it in the Order of November 27, 2001 to submit its appeal memorandum and draft decision within 15 days from notice; otherwise, it would dismiss the case.  Since GEA received the above order on December 12, 2001, it had until December 27, 2001 within which to comply with it.  Petitioner GEA points out that it filed two successive motions for extension of time within which to file the required memorandum appeal and draft decision.  Since GEA had already filed its memorandum appeal before the OP could deny those motions, it cannot be said that GEA filed the memorandum appeal out of time.  But petitioner GEA gambled when it did not file the memorandum appeal and draft decision within the extra 15 days that the OP gave it.  It asked first for an extension of 15 days and then an additional extension of five days.  GEA had no right to assume, however, that the OP would grant these extensions.  The governing rules did not provide for them.  Consequently, GEA has only itself to blame when its appeal was dismissed.  Notably, the OP also required petitioner GEA to file, along with its memorandum appeal, a draft decision.  GEA did not.  It instead filed two more motions for extension of time within which to do so.  Section 5 of the Rules of that office provides that failure to comply with its orders may warrant a dismissal of the appeal.  Consequently, the OP acted within its authority in dismissing GEA’s appeal for this additional reason. Greenhills East Association, Inc. vs. E. Ganzon, Inc., G.R. No. 169741, January 22, 2010.

Appeal in election cases; payment of appeal fee. As Aguilar stated and COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 reiterated, the payment of the PhP 1,000 appeal fee within five days from the promulgation of the Regional Trial Court or MTC decision technically “perfects” the appeal from the trial court’s decision.  Such appeal is not dismissible as a matter of course on account alone of the inadequate payment or nonpayment of the filing fee of PhP 3,200.  The legal situation, however, changes if the appellant, in the words of Resolution No. 8654, fails, as directed, to pay the amount within 15 days from receipt of notice from the COMELEC.  In the instant case, albeit Nollen paid the PhP 3,200 only in October 2008, or long after his receipt of the June 2008 MTC decision, his appeal may validly be viewed as not fatally belated. COMELEC Resolution No. 8654 is applicable to his appeal, as the appeal was on June 5, 2008, or prior to July 24, 2008 when the more stringent Resolution No. 8486 took effect. Mateo R. Nollen, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Susana M. Caballes,  G.R. No. 187635, January 11, 2010.

Appeal in election cases; application of rule on payment of appeal fee. For the sake of laying down clearly the rules regarding the payment of the appeal fee, a discussion of the application of the recent Divinagracia v. COMELEC to election contests involving elective municipal and barangay officials is necessary.  Divinagracia explained the purpose of Resolution No. 8486 which, as earlier stated, the COMELEC issued to clarify existing rules and address the resulting confusion caused by the two appeal fees required, for the perfection of appeals, by the two different jurisdictions: the court and COMELEC.  Divinagracia stressed that if the appellants had already paid the amount of PhP 1,000 to the lower courts within the five-day reglementary period, they are further required to pay the COMELEC, through its Cash Division, the appeal fee of PhP 3,200 within fifteen (15) days from the time of the filing of the notice of appeal with the lower court.  If the appellants failed to pay the PhP 3,200 within the prescribed period, then the appeal should be dismissed.  The Court went on to state in Divinagracia that Aguilar did not “dilute the force of COMELEC Resolution No. 8486 on the matter of compliance with the COMELEC-required appeal fees.” The resolution, to reiterate, was mainly issued to clarify the confusion caused by the requirement of payment of two appeal fees.

Divinagracia, however, contained the following final caveat: that “for notice of appeal filed after the promulgation of this decision, errors in the matter of non-payment or incomplete payment of the two appeal fees in election cases are no longer excusable.” It cannot be overemphasized, however, that the warning given in Divinagracia is inapplicable to the case at bar, since the notice of appeal in the instant case was filed on June 5, 2008.  In the strict legal viewpoint, Divinagracia contextually finds applicability only in cases where notices of appeal were filed at least after the promulgation of the Divinagracia decision on July 27, 2009.  Since petitioner paid the appeal fee of PhP 1,000 simultaneously with his filing of his notice of appeal on June 5, 2008, the appeal is considered perfected pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 8654, taking it beyond the ambit of Divinagracia.  Again, petitioner’s failure to pay the remaining PhP 3,200 within the prescribed period cannot be taken against him, since the COMELEC failed to notify him regarding the additional appeal fee, as provided by Resolution No. 8654.  Although Nollen, following superseded jurisprudence, failed to pay the filing fee on time, he nonetheless voluntarily paid the remaining PhP 3,200 appeal fee on October 6, 2008.  We, thus, credit him for remitting the amount of PhP 3,200, which, applying extant rules and prevailing jurisprudence, cannot be considered as having been belatedly paid.  Hence, his petition should be given due course. Mateo R. Nollen, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Susana M. Caballes, G.R. No. 187635, January 11, 2010.

Execution pending appeal in election case. Section 11, Rule 14  of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC sets the standards in the grant or denial of a motion for execution pending appeal in election contests involving elective municipal and barangay officials, to wit – XXX  XXX  XXX.  The sole issue in this case is whether the RTC abided by the standards set forth in the foregoing rule when it granted petitioner’s motion for execution pending appeal.  In setting aside the RTC special order dated February 15, 2008, the COMELEC ruled that the issuance of the writ of execution pending appeal failed to satisfy the requirements laid down in Rule 14, Section 11 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC. According to the COMELEC, the notice of the RTC’s clerk of court violated the 3-day notice rule inasmuch as respondent was only given one day from the filing of the motion within which to submit his opposition.  The relevant rule provides that a motion for execution pending appeal filed by the prevailing party shall contain a three-day notice to the adverse party and execution pending appeal shall not issue without prior notice and hearing.  It should be emphasized that these requirements are for the purpose of avoiding surprises that may be sprung upon the adverse party who must be given time to study and meet the arguments in the motion before a resolution by the court.  Where a party had the opportunity to be heard, then the purpose has been served and the requirement substantially complied with.  In this case, even the COMELEC admitted that respondent was heard and afforded his day in court; hence, it should not have annulled the RTC special order on said ground. Jesus M. Calo vs. Commission on Elections and Ramon “Monching RMC” M. Calo, G.R. No. 185222, January 19, 2010.

Execution pending appeal in election case. The COMELEC also found that respondent’s presumptive victory must prevail in the light of the fact that, in the event that the RTC’s appreciation of the votes is overturned, then respondent would still be the winning candidate.  The COMELEC thus concluded that it was more prudent to preserve the status quo prior to the RTC decision dated February 8, 2008 so as not to disrupt government service.  In the recent case of Pecson v. COMELEC, the Court ruled that:

x x x decisions of the courts in election protest cases, resulting as they do from a judicial evaluation of the ballots and after full-blown adversarial proceedings, should at least be given similar worth and recognition as decisions of the board of canvassers.  This is especially true when attended by other equally weighty circumstances of the case, such as the shortness of the term of the contested elective office, of the case.

The Court also stressed in Pecson that disruption of public service cannot per se be a basis to deny execution pending appeal –

We additionally note that “disruption of public service” necessarily results from any order allowing execution pending appeal and is a concern that this Court was aware of when it expressly provided the remedy under the Rules.  Such disruption is therefore an element that has been weighed and factored in and cannot be per se a basis to deny execution pending appeal.

Similarly in this case, the COMELEC should have accorded respect and weight to the RTC’s decision proclaiming petitioner as winner.  Note that aside from the evidence presented by the parties during the election contest and the expert testimony of the witnesses from the National Bureau of Investigation, the RTC made its own assessment and findings on the contested ballots.  On the basis of all this, the RTC concluded that “[petitioner] will still have the plurality of 981 votes in favor of [petitioner] and 315 votes also for [petitioner], respectively.”  It was also the RTC’s conclusion that “the victory of the protestant has been clearly established.”  Aside from these, the RTC also laid down the superior circumstances necessitating the grant of execution pending appeal: (1) allowing the status quo to continue would unjustly give premium to the perpetrators of fraud, anomalies and irregularities and suppress the will of the electorate; (2) the sovereign will of the people should be given utmost respect and (3) the injury or damage to be sustained by petitioner would outweigh the injury or damage of respondent.  Given that the RTC’s exercise of its discretionary power to grant execution pending appeal per special order dated February 15, 2008 was not tainted with any bias or capricious and whimsical arbitrariness, we find that the COMELEC committed an error in annulling and setting it aside. Jesus M. Calo vs. Commission on Elections and Ramon “Monching RMC” M. Calo, G.R. No. 185222, January 19, 2010.

Jurisdiction; fixing of Liquidator’s fees. Petitioner insists that pursuant to SEC Memorandum Circular No. 14, Series of 2001 (Circular), the liquidator’s fee shall be determined by the agreement between the liquidating corporation and the liquidator.  Only when they fail to reach an agreement may the SEC exercise the power to fix the amount. Considering that the SEC determined the liquidator’s fee without requiring the parties to meet and settle the amount, petitioner contends that it was denied its right to due process.  Indeed, the Circular provides:

The compensation or fees of the MANCOM, receivers and liquidators shall be determined by the agreement between the parties and the MANCOM members, receiver or liquidator.  This compensation/fees shall be of an amount which the corporation is willing and able to pay and the MANCOM members, receiver or liquidator is willing to accept as fee or compensation for the engagement of their/his service.

In case of failure of agreement, the Commission shall determine the fees and/or compensation of MANCOM, receivers and liquidators in accordance with the guidelines set herein.

However, as correctly pointed out by the CA:

To countenance petitioner’s posturing would be to unduly delimit the broad powers granted to the SEC under Presidential Decree No. 902-A, specifically the all-encompassing provision in Section 3 that the SEC has “absolute jurisdiction, supervision and control” over all corporations who are the grantees of primary franchises and/or license or permit issued by the government to operate in the Philippines.  There is no gainsaying, therefore, that the SEC is authorized to determine the fees of receivers and liquidators not only when there is “failure of agreement” between the parties but also in the absence thereof. A contrary ruling would give license to corporations under liquidation or receivership to refuse to participate in negotiations for the fixing of the compensation of their liquidators or receivers so as to evade their obligation to pay the same.

Petitioner may not have been given the chance to meet face to face with respondent for the purpose of determining the latter’s fee.  But this fact alone should not invalidate the amount fixed by the SEC.  What matters is the reasonableness of the fee in light of the services rendered by the liquidator.  It is the policy of the SEC to provide uniform/fair and reasonable compensation or fees for the comparable services rendered by the duly designated members of the Management Committee (MANCOM), rehabilitation receivers and liquidators in corporations or partnerships placed under MANCOM/receivership or liquidation, pursuant to Section 6(d) of Presidential Decree No. 902-A, the SEC Rules on Corporate Recovery, the Corporation Code of the Philippines, the Securities Regulation Code, and other related laws enforced by the SEC.  The Court notes that respondent initially demanded P623,214.35, representing his liquidator’s fee of P450,000.00 and out-of-pocket expenses of P173,214.35. Respondent later manifested that he was amenable to reduce by one-half his liquidator’s fee.  Before fixing the amount due the respondent, the SEC, in fact, ordered that an audit be conducted to determine the proper amount to be paid. Clearly, the fee fixed by the SEC was not without basis.  Besides, as correctly held by the CA, “respondent actually rendered services in accordance with his oath of office as liquidator for which he is entitled to be compensated by petitioner.” Catmon Sales International Corporation vs. Atty. Manuel D. Yngson, Jr. as Liquidator of Catmon Sales International Corporation, G.R. No. 179761, January 15, 2010.

Evidence

Authentication of private documents. We are not swayed by petitioners’ allegation that the comparisons made by the document examiner, the CA and the trial court, of Guillerma’s signature in the Deed of Absolute Sale and her specimen signatures, violated Section 22, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court on the authentication of private documents.  It should be borne in mind that in this case respondents were not presenting evidence to authenticate a private document.  On the contrary, they are challenging the signatures appearing in the Deed of Absolute Sale. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Finding of forged signatures. Moreover, the findings of the NBI document examiner were corroborated by the trial court’s own observation, as affirmed by the CA, that “even a cursory examination of Guillerma’s questioned signature from her specimen signatures in the enlarged photographs (Exhibits ‘F’ and ‘F-1’) would show that it needs no expert witness to notice the wide difference in stroke, as well as the writing style in capital ‘G’.”  What is more, Emma S. Felicilda, the daughter of then deceased Guillerma, likewise testified that “in fact my mother was the one who filed the complaint in this instant case because according to her, she did not sign the said document”. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Judicial notice by quasi-judicial body. In relying on the Mandaluyong zoning map, the HLURB took note of the standard procedure observed in fixing the boundaries of lands, where the preparation and drafting of the illustrative maps precede the drafting of the text that describes those boundaries.  Although the text of the ordinance is controlling, any doubt or vagueness in the meaning of its provisions may be cleared up by a reference to the official map.  As a quasi-judicial body, which enjoys an expertise in land zoning classifications, the HLURB can take judicial notice of such official maps as are generated and used in government zoning activities.  The Court has no reason to disturb its findings in this case. Greenhills East Association, Inc. vs. E. Ganzon, Inc., G.R. No. 169741, January 22, 2010.

Notarized document. We have thoroughly reviewed the records of this case and agree that the deed of sale dated April 26, 1982 is a legal and binding document. The testimonies of the witnesses to the document attest to the parties freely signing the document and the occurrence of the transaction in a clear and definite manner. Moreover, it is a notarized document which renders it a prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein.  In the absence of documents or testimonies from disinterested persons proving petitioner’s claim of a fictitious sale, there is no basis to set aside the deed of sale. (Bernarda CH. Osmeña vs. Nicasio CH. Osmeña, et al., G.R. No. 171911, January 26, 2010.

Parol evidence rule; exceptions. The Salimbangons point out that the CA ought to have rejected Eduardo Ceniza’s testimony that the heirs had intended to establish the easement of right of way solely for the benefit of the interior Lots D and E which had no access to the city street.  The partition agreement also made Lot A, now owned by the Salimbangons, a beneficiary of that easement.  Thus:

2.  To Eduardo Ceniza [now the Tans], Lot B subject to a perpetual and grat[u]itous road right of way 1.50 m. wide along its SW. boundary in favor of Lots A, D & E of the subdivision; (Underscoring supplied)

The parol evidence rule, said the Salimbangons, precluded the parties from introducing testimony that tended to alter or modify what the parties had agreed on above.  But the exclusionary provision of the parol evidence rule admits of exceptions.  Section 9, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence states:

Sec. 9.              Evidence of written agreements. – When the terms of an agreement have been reduced to writing, it is considered as containing all the terms agreed upon and there can be, between the parties and their successors in interest, no evidence of such terms other than the contents of the written agreement.  However, a party may present evidence to modify, explain or add to the terms of the written agreement if he puts in issue in his pleading:

(a)              An intrinsic ambiguity, mistake or imperfection in the written agreement;

(b)              The failure of the written agreement to express the true intent and agreement of the parties thereto;  XXX  XXX  XXX.

Here, the Tans had put in issue the true intent and agreement of the parties to the partition when they alleged in their complaint that, contrary to what paragraph 2 quoted above seems to imply, the easement was actually for the benefit of Lots D and E only.  The complaint thus said:  XXX  XXX  XXX  XXX.  Consequently, with the above averment, the Tans were entitled to introduce evidence to establish the true intent and agreement of the parties although this may depart from what the partition agreement literally provided.  At any rate, as the CA said, the Salimbangons did not object at the hearing to admission of Eduardo Ceniza’s testimony even when this seemed at variance, as far as they were concerned, with the partition agreement among the heirs.  Consequently, the Salimbangons may also be deemed to have waived their right to now question such testimony on appeal. Sps. Manuel and Victoria Salimbangon vs. Sps. Santos and Erlinda Tan, G.R. No. 185240, January 21, 2010.

Probative value of document examination commissioned by party. It is of no moment that the examination of the Deed of Absolute Sale was commissioned by the respondents.  In the end, it is the court which has the discretion and authority on whether to give probative value to the results of the examination.  As held in Sali v. Abubakar, the fact that the NBI conducted the examination of certain contested documents upon the request of a private litigant does not necessarily nullify the examination thus made: “x x x  Its purpose is, presumably, to assist the court having jurisdiction over said litigations, in the performance of its duty to settle correctly the issue relative to said documents.  Even a non-expert private individual may examine the same, if there are facts within his knowledge which may help the courts in the determination of said issue.  Such examination, which may properly be undertaken by a non-expert private individual, does not, certainly, become null and void when the examiner is an expert and/or an officer of the NBI.  Indeed, any person, expert or not, either in his private or in his official capacity, may testify in court on matters, within his personal knowledge, which are relevant to a suit, subject to the judicial authority to determine the credibility of said testimony and the weight thereof.  [On] the other hand, the question whether a public official may or shall be ordered or permitted by his superior to examine documents and testify thereon in a given case, is one mainly administrative in character, which is within the competence of said superior officer, or the Bureau Director or Head of the Office, or the corresponding department head to decide, and is independent of the validity of the examination thus made or of the credence and weight to be given by the Court to the conclusions reached, in consequence of said examination, by the official who made it.” Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Question of fact. The core issue to be resolved in the present controversy is the authenticity of the Deed of Absolute Sale which is a question of fact rather than of law.  In Manila Bay Club Corporation v. Court of Appeals, we held that for a question to be one of law, it must involve no examination of the probative value of the evidence presented by the litigants or any of them.  There is a question of law when the doubt or difference arises as to what the law is pertaining to a certain state of facts.  On the other hand, there is a question of fact when the doubt arises as to the truth or the falsity of alleged facts. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

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