October 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law (Part III)

Counterclaims; tests to determine if compulsory.  Going now to the first assigned error, petitioner submits that its counterclaim for the rentals collected by Fernando from the CMTC is in the nature of a compulsory counterclaim in the original action of Fernando against petitioner for annulment of bid award, deed of absolute sale and TCT No. 76183. Respondents, on the other hand, alleged that petitioner’s counterclaim is permissive and its failure to pay the prescribed docket fees results into the dismissal of its claim.

To determine whether a counterclaim is compulsory or not, the Court has devised the following tests: (a) Are the 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 claims, absent the compulsory counterclaim rule? (c) Will substantially the same evidence support or refute plaintiff’s claim as well as the defendant’s counterclaim? and (d) Is there any logical relation between the claim and the counterclaim? A positive answer to all four questions would indicate that the counterclaim is compulsory.

Tested against the above-mentioned criteria, this Court agrees with the CA’s view that petitioner’s counterclaim for the recovery of the amount representing rentals collected by Fernando from the CMTC is permissive. The evidence needed by Fernando to cause the annulment of the bid award, deed of absolute sale and TCT is different from that required to establish petitioner’s claim for the recovery of rentals.  The issue in the main action, i.e., the nullity or validity of the bid award, deed of absolute sale and TCT in favor of CMTC, is entirely different from the issue in the counterclaim, i.e., whether petitioner is entitled to receive the CMTC’s rent payments over the subject property when petitioner became the owner of the subject property by virtue of the consolidation of ownership of the property in its favor.  Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) vs. Heirs of Fernando P. Caballero, et al., G.R. No. 158090, October 4, 2010

Docket fees; GSIS not exempt from payment.  Petitioner [GSIS] further argues that assuming that its counterclaim is permissive, the trial court has jurisdiction to try and decide the same, considering petitioner’s exemption from all kinds of fees.

In In Re: Petition for Recognition of the Exemption of the Government Service Insurance System from Payment of Legal Fees, the Court ruled that the provision in the Charter of the GSIS, i.e., Section 39 of Republic Act No. 8291, which exempts it from “all taxes, assessments, fees, charges or duties of all kinds,” cannot operate to exempt it from the payment of legal fees. This was because, unlike the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, which empowered Congress to repeal, alter or supplement the rules of the Supreme Court concerning pleading, practice and procedure, the 1987 Constitution removed this power from Congress.  Hence, the Supreme Court now has the sole authority to promulgate rules concerning pleading, practice and procedure in all courts.

In said case, the Court ruled that:

The separation of powers among the three co-equal branches of our government has erected an impregnable wall that keeps the power to promulgate rules of pleading, practice and procedure within the sole province of this Court. The other branches trespass upon this prerogative if they enact laws or issue orders that effectively repeal, alter or modify any of the procedural rules promulgated by this Court. Viewed from this perspective, the claim of a legislative grant of exemption from the payment of legal fees under Section 39 of RA 8291 necessarily fails.

Congress could not have carved out an exemption for the GSIS from the payment of legal fees without transgressing another equally important institutional safeguard of the Court’s independence − fiscal autonomy. Fiscal autonomy recognizes the power and authority of the Court to levy, assess and collect fees, including legal fees. Moreover, legal fees under Rule 141 have two basic components, the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary Fund (SAJF). The laws which established the JDF and the SAJF expressly declare the identical purpose of these funds to “guarantee the independence of the Judiciary as mandated by the Constitution and public policy.” Legal fees therefore do not only constitute a vital source of the Court’s financial resources but also comprise an essential element of the Court’s fiscal independence. Any exemption from the payment of legal fees granted by Congress to government-owned or controlled corporations and local government units will necessarily reduce the JDF and the SAJF. Undoubtedly, such situation is constitutionally infirm for it impairs the Court’s guaranteed fiscal autonomy and erodes its independence.

Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) vs. Heirs of Fernando P. Caballero, et al., G.R. No. 158090, October 4, 2010

Ejectment; forcible entry and unlawful detainer distinguished.  Well settled is the rule that what determines the nature of the action as well as the court which has jurisdiction over the case are the allegations in the complaint.  In ejectment cases, the complaint should embody such statement of facts as to bring the party clearly within the class of cases under Section 1, Rule 70 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. Section 1 provides:

SECTION 1.  Who may institute proceedings, and when.– Subject to the provisions of the next succeeding section, a person deprived of the possession of any land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, or a lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person against whom the possession of any land or building is unlawfully withheld after the expiration or termination of the right to hold possession, by virtue of any contract, express or implied, or the legal representatives or assigns of any such lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person, may, at any time within one (1) year after such unlawful deprivation or withholding of possession, bring an action in the proper Municipal Trial Court against the person or persons unlawfully withholding or depriving of possession, or any person or persons claiming under them, for the restitution of such possession, together with damages and costs.

There are two entirely distinct and different causes of action under the aforequoted rule, to wit: (1) a case for forcible entry, which is an action to recover possession of a property from the defendant whose occupation thereof is illegal from the beginning as he acquired possession by force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth; and (2) a case for unlawful detainer, which is an action for recovery of possession from the defendant whose possession of the property was inceptively lawful by virtue of a contract (express or implied) with the plaintiff, but became illegal when he continued his possession despite the termination of his right thereunder.

In forcible entry, the plaintiff must allege in the complaint, and prove, that he was in prior physical possession of the property in dispute until he was deprived thereof by the defendant by any of the means provided in Section 1, Rule 70 of the Rules either by force, intimidation, threat, strategy or stealth.  In unlawful detainer, there must be an allegation in the complaint of how the possession of defendant started or continued, that is, by virtue of lease or any contract, and that defendant holds possession of the land or building “after the expiration or termination of the right to hold possession by virtue of any contract, express or implied.”  Corazon D. Sarmienta, et al. vs. Manalite Homeowners Association, Inc., G.R. No. 182953. October 11, 2010

Ejectment; unlawful detainer.  An action for forcible entry or unlawful detainer is governed by Rule 70 of the Rules of Court, Section 1 of which provides:

SECTION 1. Who may institute proceedings, and when. — Subject to the provisions of the next succeeding section, a person deprived of the possession of any land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, or a lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person against whom the possession of any land or building is unlawfully withheld after the expiration or termination of the right to hold possession, by virtue of any contract, express or implied, or the legal representatives or assigns of any such lessor, vendor, vendee, or other person, may, at any time within one (1) year after such unlawful deprivation or withholding of possession, bring an action in the proper Municipal Trial Court against the person or persons unlawfully withholding or depriving of possession, or any person or persons claiming under them, for the restitution of such possession, together with damages and costs.

Unlawful detainer is an action to recover possession of real property from one who illegally withholds possession after the expiration or termination of his right to hold possession under any contract, express or implied. The possession of the defendant in unlawful detainer is originally legal but became illegal due to the expiration or termination of the right to possess. An unlawful detainer proceeding is summary in nature, jurisdiction of which lies with the proper municipal trial court or metropolitan trial court. The action must be brought within one year from the date of last demand; and the issue in said case is the right to physical possession.  Esmeraldo C. Romullo, et al. vs. Samahang Magkakapitbahay ng Bayanihan Compound Homeowners Association, Inc. represented by its President, Paquito Quitalig, G.R. No. 180687, October 6, 2010

Ejectment; unlawful detainer; allegations constitute case of unlawful detainer.  In the present case, a thorough perusal of the complaint would reveal that the allegations clearly constitute a case of unlawful detainer:

x x x x

3.  Plaintiff is the registered owner of that certain parcel of land involved in the instant case covered by TCT No. 222603 containing an area of 9,936 sq.m. situated in Sitio Manalite, Phase I, Baranggay Sta. Cruz, Antipolo City, which property was place under community mortgage program (CMP);

4.  Other defendants in the instant case are all member and officers of defendant AMARA who, through force, intimidation, threat, strategy and stealth entered into the premises herein and constructed their temporary houses and office building respectively, pre-empting plaintiff from using the premises thus, depriving the same of its prior possession thereof;

5.  On September 2, 1992 as an strategy of the cheapest sort defendants, in conspiracy and collusion with each other, defendants as representative of Heirs of Antonio and Hermogenes Rodriquez, the alleged owner of the property at bar, filed civil case no. 92-2454 against plaintiff, lodge before Branch 73 of the Regional Trial Court of Antipolo City, seeking to annul plaintiff title;

6.  Immediately upon final dismissal of such groundless, baseless and malicious suit, plaintiff demanded defendants to vacate the premises, but the latter pleaded with the former to be given a one (1) year period within which to look for a place to transfer, which period, upon pleas of defendants, coupled with plaintiff’s benevolence was repeatedly extended by said plaintiffs tolerance of occupancy thereof, but under such terms and conditions.  Due to failure to comply with their undertaking despite repeated demands therefor plaintiffs sent a formal demand letter upon defendants;

7.  Upon receipt of the above-stated demand, defendants propose to become members of plaintiff, as qualification to acquire portions of the property by sale pursuant to the CMP, to which plaintiff agreed and tolerated defendants possession by giving the same a period until the month of December 1999, to comply with all the requirements pre-requisite to the availing of the CMP benefits but failed and despite repeated demands therefor, thus, the filing of a complaint with the Baranggay and the issuance of the certificate to file action dated February 8, 2000;

8.  As time is of the essence, and the fact that the defendants are mere intruders or usurpers who have no possessory right whatsoever over the land illegally occupied by them, trifling technicalities that would tend to defeat the speedy administration of justice formal demand is not necessary thereto, (Republic vs. Cruz C.A. G.R. No. 24910 R Feb. 7, 1964) however, to afford a sufficient period of time within which to vacate the premises peacefully another oral and formal demands were made upon the same to that effect, and demolish the temporary office and houses they constructed on plaintiff’s property and instead defendants again, as representative to alleged “Estate of Julian Tallano” filed a complaint for ejectment against plaintiffs former President, Hon. Marcelino Aben which case, is docketed as civil case no. 4119, lodged, before branch 11 of this Honorable court, defendants obstinately refused to peacefully turn over the property they intruded upon in fact they even dared plaintiff to file a case against them boasting that nobody can order them to vacate the premises;

9.  Defendants’ letter dated August 9, 2000, acknowledged actual receipt of plaintiffs two (2) formal demands letters.  Thus, “the issuance of Katibayan Upang Makadulog sa Hukuman” dated September 25, 2000;

10.  As a result thereof, plaintiff was compelled to engage the services of the undersigned counsel in order to immediately institute the instant suit for which services plaintiff agreed to pay the amount of P35,000.00 plus P3,500.00 per court appearance;

x x x x

A complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action for unlawful detainer if it recites the following: (1) initially, possession of property by the defendant was by contract with or by tolerance of the plaintiff; (2) eventually, such possession became illegal upon notice by plaintiff to defendant of the termination of the latter’s right of possession; (3) thereafter, the defendant remained in possession of the property and deprived the plaintiff of the enjoyment thereof; and (4) within one year from the last demand on defendant to vacate the property, the plaintiff instituted the complaint for ejectment.

Likewise, the evidence proves that after MAHA acquired the property, MAHA tolerated petitioners’ stay and gave them the option to acquire portions of the property by becoming members of MAHA.  Petitioners’ continued stay on the premises was subject to the condition that they shall comply with the requirements of the CMP.  Thus, when they failed to fulfill their obligations, MAHA had the right to demand for them to vacate the property as their right of possession had already expired or had been terminated.  The moment MAHA required petitioners to leave, petitioners became deforciants illegally occupying the land.  Well settled is the rule that a person who occupies the land of another at the latter’s tolerance or permission, without any contract between them, is necessarily bound by an implied promise that he will vacate upon demand, failing which, a summary action for ejectment is the proper remedy against him.  Thus, the RTC and the CA correctly ruled in favor of MAHA.  Corazon D. Sarmienta, et al. vs. Manalite Homeowners Association, Inc., G.R. No. 182953. October 11, 2010

Ejectment; unlawful detainer; complaint sufficiently alleges cause of action for unlawful detainer. Based on the foregoing, we have held that a complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action for unlawful detainer if it recites the following:

(1) initially, possession of property by the defendant was by contract with or by tolerance of the plaintiff;

(2) eventually, such possession became illegal upon notice by plaintiff to defendant of the termination of the latter’s right of possession;

(3) thereafter, the defendant remained in possession of the property and deprived the plaintiff of the enjoyment thereof; and

(4)  within one year from the last demand on defendant to vacate the property, the plaintiff instituted the complaint for ejectment.

In this case, respondent’s allegations in the complaint clearly make a case for unlawful detainer, essential to confer jurisdiction on the MeTC over the subject matter. Thus, we accord respect to the CA’s findings, to wit:

A review of the Complaint readily reveals that land titles were issued in the name of the respondent after it purchased the land referred to as the Bayanihan Compound through the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) of the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation.  The lots allocated to the petitioners formed part of the Bayanihan Compound which they received as members/beneficiaries of the respondent.  However, their refusal to pay the monthly amortizations despite demands resulted in their expulsion as members and loss of recognition as beneficiaries of the lots in question.  Even when the case was referred to the barangay, no settlement was reached.  Petitioners likewise did not conform to respondent’s demand to vacate the premises and return its possession.  As such, respondent sought to recover possession of the said lots by filing a case for ejectment within a year after final demand.

Esmeraldo C. Romullo, et al. vs. Samahang Magkakapitbahay ng Bayanihan Compound Homeowners Association, Inc. represented by its President, Paquito Quitalig, G.R. No. 180687, October 6, 2010

Ejectment; unlawful detainer; sole issue is physical or material possession of property, independent of claim of ownership.  As to petitioners’ argument that MAHA’s title is void for having been secured fraudulently, we find that such issue was improperly raised.  In an unlawful detainer case, the sole issue for resolution is physical or material possession of the property involved, independent of any claim of ownership by any of the parties.  Since the only issue involved is the physical or material possession of the premises, that is possession de facto and not possession de jure, the question of ownership must be threshed out in a separate action.  Corazon D. Sarmienta, et al. vs. Manalite Homeowners Association, Inc., G.R. No. 182953. October 11, 2010

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; notice requirement.  In Olizon v. Court of Appeals, the Court expounded on the purpose for giving notice of the foreclosure sale; and if such purpose could be attained by publication alone, then the absence of actual posting should not nullify the sale.  Thus:

We take judicial notice of the fact that newspaper publications have more far-reaching effects than posting on bulletin boards in public places. There is a greater probability that an announcement or notice published in a newspaper of general circulation, which is distributed nationwide, shall have a readership of more people than that posted in a public bulletin board, no matter how strategic its location may be, which caters only to a limited few.  Hence, the publication of the notice of sale in the newspaper of general circulation alone is more than sufficient compliance with the notice-posting requirement of the law.  By such publication, a reasonably wide publicity had been effected such that those interested might attend the public sale, and the purpose of the law had been thereby subserved.

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 of the property.  If these objects are attained, immaterial errors and mistakes will not affect the sufficiency of the notice; but if mistakes or omissions occur in the notices of sale, which are calculated to deter or mislead bidders, to depreciate the value of the property, or to prevent it from bringing a fair price, such mistakes or omissions will be fatal to the validity of the notice, and also to the sale made pursuant thereto.

In the instant case, the aforesaid objective was attained since there was sufficient publicity of the sale through the newspaper publication.  There is completely no showing that the property was sold for a price far below its value as to insinuate any bad faith, nor was there any showing or even an intimation of collusion between the sheriff who conducted the sale and respondent bank.  This being so, the alleged non-compliance with the posting requirement, even if true, will not justify the setting aside of the sale.

Olizon squarely applies in this case.  It is not disputed that the Notice of Sale was duly published in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for three consecutive weeks.  Respondents did not allege, much less prove, any mistake or omission in the published Notice of Sale calculated to deter or mislead bidders, depreciate the value of the property, or to prevent it from bringing a fair price; or sale of the mortgaged properties for a price far below their value as to insinuate bad faith; or collusion between Notary Public Magpantay, who conducted the sale, and petitioner.  Hence, the alleged non-compliance with the posting requirement, even if true, shall not justify the setting aside of the foreclosure sale.  Century Savings Bank vs. Spouses Danilo T. Samonte and Rosalinda M. Samonte, G.R. No. 176212, October 20, 2010.

Extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage; requirement that debtor be in default.  Foreclosure is valid only when the debtor is in default in the payment of his obligation.  It is a necessary consequence of non-payment of mortgage indebtedness. As a rule, the mortgage can be foreclosed only when the debt remains unpaid at the time it is due.  In a real estate mortgage, when the principal obligation is not paid when due, the mortgagee has the right to foreclose on the mortgage, to have the property seized and sold, and to apply the proceeds to the obligation.  RCBC’s own Amortization Schedule readily shows the applicability of Article 1176 of the Civil Code, which states:

Art. 1176. The receipt of the principal by the creditor, without reservation with respect to the interest, shall give rise to the presumption that the said interest has been paid.

The receipt of a later installment of a debt without reservation as to prior installments, shall likewise raise the presumption that such installments have been paid.

Respondent’s passbooks indicate that RCBC continued to receive his payments even after it made demands for him to pay his past due accounts, and even after the auction sale.  RCBC cannot deny receipt of the payments, even when it claims that the deposits were “not withdrawn.” It is not respondent’s fault that RCBC did not withdraw the money he deposited. His obligation under the mortgage agreement was to deposit his payment in the savings account he had opened for that purpose, in order that RCBC may debit the amount of his monthly liabilities therefrom. He complied with his part of the agreement.  This bolsters the conclusion of the CA that respondent had no unpaid installments and was not in default as would warrant the application of the acceleration clause and the subsequent foreclosure and auction sale of the property.   Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation vs. Pedro P. Buenaventura, G.R. No. 176479, October 6, 2010

Factual findings of administrative agencies generally accorded respect and even finality.  Factual findings of administrative agencies are generally respected and even accorded finality because of the special knowledge and expertise gained by these agencies from handling matters falling under their specialized jurisdiction. Given that the LMB is the administrative agency tasked with assisting the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the management and disposition of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, we defer to its specialized knowledge on these matters.   Pio Modesto and Cirila Rivera-Modesto vs. Carlos Urbina, substituted by the heirs of Olympia Miguel Vda. de Urbina, et al., G.R. No. 189859, October 18, 2010.

Injunction; preliminary injunction; nature of remedy and evidence relied on.  It must also be pointed out that there was a preliminary issue – that of the parties’ respective petitions for injunction – that had to be determined before the resolution of the main case. When the case was transferred from the SEC to the RTC, only the matter of the petitions for preliminary injunctions had been heard and submitted for resolution. The hearings to resolve the petition to nullify the Foundation’s Amended By-laws were yet to be held.

An injunctive writ is not a judgment on the merits of the case.  A writ of preliminary injunction is generally based solely on initial and incomplete evidence.  The evidence submitted during the hearing on an application for a writ of preliminary injunction is not conclusive or complete, for only a “sampling” is needed to give the trial court an idea of the justification for the preliminary injunction pending the decision of the case on the merits.

An order granting a preliminary injunction is not a final resolution or decision disposing of the case.  It is based on a preliminary determination of the status quo and on petitioner’s entitlement to the Writ.  Thus, the findings of fact and opinion of a court when issuing the writ of preliminary injunction are interlocutory in nature and made before the trial on the merits is commenced or terminated. There may be vital facts to be presented at trial which may not be obtained or presented during the hearing on the application for the injunctive writ.  The trial court needs to conduct substantial proceedings in order to put the main controversy to rest.  As such, even as respondents claim that the RTC correctly ruled that the Amended By-laws are not valid, they are still contesting the latter’s finding on the number of qualified apostles.  This only further underscores the need for trial to determine which of the parties’ claims are true and relevant.   There are other questions raised that cannot be answered in the present petition, and nothing less than a full-blown trial is needed in order to test the conflicting claims of the parties.  Manuel D. Recto, et al. vs. Bishop Federico O. Escaler, S.J., et al., G.R. No. 173179, October 20, 2010.

Judgment; finality.  Elemental is the rule of procedure that the nature of a pleading is to be determined by the averments in it and not by its title. Hence, while petitioner’s Motion (to Recall the April 19, 2000 Order) was so denominated, it is not difficult to see that the remedy it was seeking was actually a reconsideration of the dismissal of the Receivership Case.  This Motion, to reiterate, does not appear to have been acted upon by the hearing officer at any time during the interim that the subject order was issued and the two cases were eventually transferred to Branches 138 and 142 of the RTC of Makati.   In particular, when the Receivership Case was transferred to Branch 138, petitioner’s Motion to Recall was still a pending incident in the case.  With the transfer of the records to the said court, the accompanying duty to resolve the motion likewise had devolved on the said court.  In other words, contrary to the findings of the Court of Appeals, the Receivership Case has not yet attained finality, as indeed the motion seeking reconsideration of its dismissal had not been acted upon by the hearing officer himself and had not yet, in fact, been acted upon by Branch 138 of the RTC of Makati.  Moreover, the November 23, 2000 Order of the SEC En Banc reads in full:

Under the Revised Rules of Procedure of the Securities and Exchange Commission, parties in an intra-corporate dispute are allowed to file a petition for certiorari questioning interlocutory orders of the Hearing Officer based on grave abuse of discretion.  Such remedy was allowed by the Commission in order for it to have oversight power over the acts of the Hearing Officer.  With the passage [of] Republic Act 8799 otherwise known as the “Securities Regulation Code,” the jurisdiction of the Commission over intra-corporate dispute was transferred to the regular courts.  With the transfer of this function to the regular courts, the oversight power of the Commission en banc over the acts of their Hearing Officers, has now become functus officius. Therefore, the present petition for certiorari herein shall no longer be acted upon by the Commission and denied due course.  A copy of this order, together with the records of the case, [is] hereby forwarded to the Regional Trial Court where the main case shall be heard for their consideration.

SO ORDERED.

As can be gleaned from the aforequoted order, the SEC En Banc has chosen not to act on the Certiorari Petition which principally assailed the October 22 and December 16, 1999 Orders of Hearing Officer Bacalla respectively accepting the Committee Report and denying reconsideration, precisely because it acknowledged that it has lost jurisdiction over the petition as a result of the supervening transfer of jurisdiction over the case to the trial court.  This is evident in its recognition of the fact that by virtue of the enactment of R.A. No. 8799, it has thereby also lost the oversight power to correct abuses of discretion in the issuance of interlocutory orders by its hearing officers.  More to the point, it likewise ordered the transfer of the records of the case to the trial court where it may supposedly be heard for further consideration.  On these observations, it is clear that this Order could not have written finis to the Certiorari Petition for the basic reason that the SEC En Banc, at that given point, could no longer validly act on the same —much less to rule on the merits of the petition.  Bank of Commerce vs. Hon. Estela Perlas-Bernabe, etc., et al. G.R. No. 172393, October 20, 2010.

Judgment; finality.  Once a decision attains finality, it becomes the law of the case irrespective of whether the decision is erroneous or not and no court – not even the Supreme Court – has the power to revise, review, change or alter the same. The basic rule of finality of judgment is grounded on the fundamental principle of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional error, the judgment of courts and the award of quasi-judicial agencies must become final at some definite date fixed by law.

Admittedly, the rule that a judgment that has become final and executory can no longer be disturbed, altered or modified admits of exceptions in special cases.  In filing the petition at hand, however, ZFMC has once again hindered the proper appreciation of the facts of the case by failing to submit copies of the BFD Director’s orders dated 8 May 1974 and 11 November 1974, a complete copy of the 25 June 1985 decision in MNR Case No. 4023 and the pleadings the parties filed before the MNR and the Office of the President. Even if we were, therefore, to excuse ZFMC’s procedural lapses before the CA, there would still be a paucity of bases for the reversal of the 30 June 2003 decision in O.P. Case No. 5613.  Zamboanga Forest Managers Corporation vs. New Pacific Timber and Supply Company, et al.,  G.R. No. 173342. October 13, 2010.

Judgment; finality; party cannot re-litigate claims already resolved with finality.  In their Memorandum, respondents’ claim that CMTC cannot purchase real estate or invest its funds in any purpose other than its primary purpose for which it was organized in the absence of a corporate board resolution; the bid award, deed of absolute sale and TCT No. T-76183, issued in favor of the CMTC, should be nullified; the trial court erred in concluding that GSIS personnel have regularly performed their official duty when they conducted the public bidding; Fernando, as former owner of the subject property and former member of the GSIS, has the preemptive right to repurchase the foreclosed property.  These additional averments cannot be taken cognizance by the Court, because they were substantially respondents’ arguments in their petition for review on certiorari earlier filed before Us and docketed as G.R. No. 156609. Records show that said petition was denied by the Court in a Resolution dated April 23, 2003, for petitioners’ (respondents herein) failure to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error in the challenged decision as to warrant the exercise by this Court of its discretionary appellate jurisdiction. [The petition was also denied for lack of proof of the petition on the adverse party and its failure to attach the affidavit of service of copy of the petition on the adverse parties. (Id. at 190.)] Said resolution became final and executory on June 9, 2003.  Respondents’ attempt to re-litigate claims already passed upon and resolved with finality by the Court in G.R. No. 156609 cannot be allowed.  Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) vs. Heirs of Fernando P. Caballero, et al., G.R. No. 158090, October 4, 2010

Judgment; immutability; exceptions.  As a rule, a final judgment may no longer be altered, amended or modified, even if the alteration, amendment or modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law and regardless of what court, be it the highest Court of the land, rendered it.  In the past, however, we have recognized exceptions to this rule by reversing judgments and recalling their entries in the interest of substantial justice and where special and compelling reasons called for such actions.

Notably, in San Miguel Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission, Galman v. Sandiganbayan,  Philippine Consumers Foundation v. National Telecommunications Commission, and Republic v. de los Angeles, we reversed our judgment on the second motion for reconsideration, while in Vir-Jen Shipping and Marine Services v. National Labor Relations Commission,  we did so on a third motion for reconsideration.  In Cathay Pacific v. Romillo  and Cosio v. de Rama, we modified or amended our ruling on the second motion for reconsideration. More recently, in the cases of Munoz v. Court of Appeals, Tan Tiac Chiong v. Hon. Cosico, Manotok IV v. Barque, and Barnes v. Padilla, we recalled entries of judgment after finding that doing so was in the interest of substantial justice.  In Barnes, we said:

x  x  x  Phrased elsewise, a final and executory judgment can no longer be attacked by any of the parties or be modified, directly or indirectly, even by the highest court of the land.

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.

That the issues posed by this case are of transcendental importance is not hard to discern from these discussions. A constitutional limitation, guaranteed under no less than the all-important Bill of Rights, is at stake in this case: how can compensation in an eminent domain be “just” when the payment for the compensation for property already taken has been unreasonably delayed?  To claim, as the assailed Resolution does, that only private interest is involved in this case is to forget that an expropriation involves the government as a necessary actor.  It forgets, too, that under eminent domain, the constitutional limits or standards apply to government who carries the burden of showing that these standards have been met.  Thus, to simply dismiss this case as a private interest matter is an extremely shortsighted view that this Court should not leave uncorrected.  As duly noted in the above discussions, this issue is not one of first impression in our jurisdiction; the consequences of delay in the payment of just compensation have been settled by this Court in past rulings. Our settled jurisprudence on the issue alone accords this case primary importance as a contrary ruling would unsettle, on the flimsiest of grounds, all the rulings we have established in the past.  More than the stability of our jurisprudence, the matter before us is of transcendental importance to the nation because of the subject matter involved – agrarian reform, a societal objective that the government has unceasingly sought to achieve in the past half century.  This reform program and its objectives would suffer a major setback if the government falters or is seen to be faltering, wittingly or unwittingly, through lack of good faith in implementing the needed reforms.  Truly, agrarian reform is so important to the national agenda that the Solicitor General, no less, pointedly linked agricultural lands, its ownership and abuse, to the idea of revolution.  This linkage, to our mind, remains valid even if the landowner, not the landless farmer, is at the receiving end of the distortion of the agrarian reform program.

As we have ruled often enough, rules of procedure should not be applied in a very rigid, technical sense; rules of procedure are used only to help secure, not override, substantial justice.  As we explained in Ginete v. Court of Appeals:

Let it be emphasized that the 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 reflect 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 has already declared to be final, as we are now constrained to do in the instant case.

x  x  x  x

The emerging trend in the rulings of this Court is to afford every party litigant the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause, free from the constraints of technicalities. Time and again, this Court has consistently held that rules must not be applied rigidly so as not to override substantial justice.

Similarly, in de Guzman v. Sandiganbayan, we had occasion to state:

The Rules of Court was conceived and promulgated to set forth guidelines in the dispensation of justice but not to bind and chain the hand that dispenses it, for otherwise, courts will be mere slaves to or robots of technical rules, shorn of judicial discretion. That is precisely why courts in rendering justice have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that when on the balance, technicalities take a backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around. Truly then, technicalities, in the appropriate language of Justice Makalintal, “should give way to the realities of the situation.

We made the same recognition in Barnes, on the underlying premise that a court’s primordial and most important duty is to render justice; in discharging the duty to render substantial justice, it is permitted to re-examine even a final and executory judgment.

Based on all these considerations, particularly the patently illegal and erroneous conclusion that the petitioners are not entitled to 12% interest, we find that we are duty-bound to re-examine and overturn the assailed Resolution. We shall completely and inexcusably be remiss in our duty as defenders of justice if, given the chance to make the rectification, we shall let the opportunity pass.  Apo Fruits Corporation, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 164195, October 12, 2010.

Judgment on the pleadings. At the outset, we lay stress on the Court’s policy that cases should be promptly and expeditiously resolved. The Rules of Court seeks to abbreviate court procedure in order to allow the swift disposition of cases. Specifically, special strategies like demurrer to evidence, judgment on the pleadings, and summary judgment were adopted to attain this avowed goal. Full-blown trial is dispensed with and judgment is rendered on the basis of the pleadings, supporting affidavits, depositions, and admissions of the parties.  In the instant petition, the Court is confronted with the propriety of the judgment on the pleadings rendered by the Makati City RTC. Petitioners claim such adjudication on said papers and attachments is proper.  The petitioner’s position is impressed with merit.

Rule 34 of the Rules of Court provides that “where an answer fails to tender an issue or otherwise admits the material allegations of the adverse party’s pleading, the court may, on motion of that party, direct judgment on such pleading.”  Judgment on the pleadings is, therefore, based exclusively upon the allegations appearing in the pleadings of the parties and the annexes, if any, without consideration of any evidence aliunde.  When what is left are not genuinely issues requiring trial but questions concerning the proper interpretation of the provisions of some written contract attached to the pleadings, judgment on the pleadings is proper.

From the pleadings, the parties admitted the following facts:

(1) EIB is the stockbroker of petitioners.

(2) Petitioners and EIB entered into a SDAA, Annex “1” of EIB’s answer, which governed the relationship between petitioners as clients and EIB as stockbroker. Sec. 7 of the SDAA provides:

7. Lien

The client agrees that all monies and/or securities and/or all other property of the Client (plaintiffs) in the Company’s (defendant) custody or control held from time to time shall be subject to a general lien in favour of Company for the discharge of all or any indebtedness of the Client to the Company. The Client shall not be entitled to withdraw any monies or securities held by the Company pending the payment in full to the Company of any indebtedness of the Client to the Company. The company shall be entitled at any time and without notice to the Client to retain, apply, sell or dispose of all or any of the [client’s] property if any such obligation or liability is not discharged in full by the client when due or on demand in or towards the payment and discharge of such obligation or liability and the Company shall be under no duty to the client as to the price obtained or any losses or liabilities incurred or arising in respect of any such sale or disposal. Subject to the relevant law and regulation on the matter, the client hereby authorizes the Company, on his/its behalf, at any time and without notice to the client’s property if any such obligation or liability is not discharged.  (Emphasis supplied.)

It is clear from the SDAA that all monies, securities, and other properties of petitioners in EIB’s custody or control shall be subject to a general lien in favor of the latter solely for the discharge of all or any indebtedness to EIB.

(3)  From June 2003 to March 2004, petitioners, through their broker, EIB, bought 60,790,000 KKP shares of stock at the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE).

(4)  On various dates in July and August 2003, petitioners bought 16,180,000 DMCI shares of stock through EIB likewise at the PSE, while 16,000,000 DMCI shares of petitioners were transferred to EIB by Westlink Global Equities, Inc. Thus, a total of 32,180,000 DMCI shares of stock owned by petitioners were placed in the custody or control of EIB.

(5)  On April 1, 2004, petitioners ordered the sale of 60,790,000 KPP shares to any buyer at the price of PhP 0.14 per share. The KPP shares were eventually sold at PhP 0.14 per share to interested buyers.

(6)  Petitioners failed to reacquire or buy back the KPP shares at PhP 0.18 per share after 30 days from date of transaction.

(7)  As petitioners failed to deliver funds to EIB to honor the buy-back obligation, not to mention the cash account obligations of petitioners in the amount of PhP 70 million to EIB, EIB had no recourse but to sell the DMCI shares of petitioners to reacquire the KPP shares.

(8) Thus, on various dates in June 2004, EIB, without petitioners’ knowledge and consent, sold petitioners’ 32,180,000 DMCI shares at the controlling market price. EIB later sent sales confirmation receipts to petitioners regarding the sale of their DMCI shares, said receipts containing the common notice, which reads:

All transaction[s] are subject to the rules and customs of the Exchange and its Clearing House. It is agreed that all securities shall secure all my/our liabilities to e.securities and is authorized in their discretion to sell all or any of them without notice to we/us whenever in the opinion of e.securities my/our account is not properly secured.  (Emphasis supplied.)

(9)  EIB sent statements of accounts to petitioners showing the sale of the DMCI shares which uniformly contained the following notice:

This statement will be considered correct unless we receive notice in writing of any exceptions within 5 days from receipt. Please address all correspondence concerning exceptions to our OPERATIONS DEPARTMENT. Kindly notify us in writing of any changes in your address.

(10)  On January 12, 2005, petitioners wrote EIB demanding the return of the 32,180,000 DMCI shares.

(11)  On January 12, 2005, EIB rejected petitioners demand for the return of the DMCI shares, as those were already sold to cover the buy back of the KPP shares.

(12)  Petitioners’ prayer is the return of the 32,180,000 DMCI shares by EIB to them.

The principal issue in petitioners’ complaint is whether EIB can be compelled to return DMCI shares to petitioners based on the alleged unauthorized disposal or sale of said shares to comply with the buy back of the KKP shares. The threshold issue raised in the answer is the lack of jurisdiction over the complaint due to the alleged nonpayment of the proper docket fees. Affirmative defenses presented are that EIB disposed of the DMCI shares pursuant to Sec. 7 of the SDAA, and the notices of sale, ratification and laches.

Based on the admissions in the pleadings and documents attached, the Court finds that the issues presented by the complaint and the answer can be resolved within the four corners of said pleadings without need to conduct further hearings. As explained by the Court in Philippine National Bank v. Utility Assurance & Surety Co., Inc., when what remains to be done is the proper interpretation of the contracts or documents attached to the pleadings, then judgment on the pleadings is proper. In the case at bar, the issue of whether the sale of DMCI shares to effectuate the buy back of the KKP shares is valid can be decided by the trial court based on the SDAA, Notices of Sale, Sales Confirmation Receipts, the letters of the parties, and other appendages to the pleadings in conjunction with the allegations or admissions contained in the pleadings without need of trial. The Makati City RTC is, therefore, correct in issuing the October 18, 2005 Resolution granting the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

The CA nullified the October 18, 2005 Resolution on the ground that there are other issues that must be resolved during a full-blown trial, ratiocinating this way:

While it may be true that the Appellant has already admitted that the sale of the DMCI shares was for the purpose of buying back the KPP shares and that such admission strengthened Appellees’ claim that the sale of the DMCI shares is a nullity, there were other issues raised by the Appellant that can only be threshed out during a full blown trial, viz: the average price of the KPP shares of stock, the scope of the collaterals stated in the Notices of Sale and the monetary claims of the Appellant against the Appellees.

To the mind of the Court, these matters are not genuinely triable issues but actually minor issues or mere incidental questions that can be resolved by construing the statements embodied in the appendages to the pleadings. The facts that gave rise to the side issues are undisputed and were already presented to the trial court rendering trial unnecessary.  Pacific Rehouse Corporation, et al. vs. EIB Securities, Inc., G.R. No. 184036, October 13, 2010.

Jurisdiction; bar by laches. For the first time in the entire proceedings of this case, petitioners raise the trial court’s alleged lack of jurisdiction over the subject-matter in light of the effectivity of the IPRA at the time that the complaint was filed in 1998.  They maintain that, under the IPRA, it is the NCIP which has jurisdiction over land disputes involving indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples.

As a rule, an objection over subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time of the proceedings.  This is because jurisdiction cannot be waived by the parties or vested by the agreement of the parties.  Jurisdiction is vested by law, which prevails at the time of the filing of the complaint.

An exception to this rule has been carved by jurisprudence.  In the seminal case of Tijam v. Sibonghanoy, the Court ruled that the existence of laches will prevent a party from raising the court’s lack of jurisdiction.  Laches is defined as the “failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier; it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting the presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned or declined to assert it.” Wisely, some cases have cautioned against applying Tijam, except for the most exceptional cases where the factual milieu is similar to Tijam.

In Tijam, the surety could have raised the issue of lack of jurisdiction in the trial court but failed to do so.  Instead, the surety participated in the proceedings and filed pleadings, other than a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.  When the case reached the appellate court, the surety again participated in the case and filed their pleadings therein.  It was only after receiving the appellate court’s adverse decision that the surety awoke from its slumber and filed a motion to dismiss, in lieu of a motion for reconsideration.  The CA certified the matter to this Court, which then ruled that the surety was already barred by laches from raising the jurisdiction issue.

In case at bar, the application of the Tijam doctrine is called for because the presence of laches cannot be ignored.  If the surety in Tijam was barred by laches for raising the issue of jurisdiction for the first time in the CA, what more for petitioners in the instant case who raised the issue for the first time in their petition before this Court.  At the time that the complaint was first filed in 1998, the IPRA was already in effect but the petitioners never raised the same as a ground for dismissal; instead they filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the value of the property did not meet the jurisdictional value for the RTC.  They obviously neglected to take the IPRA into consideration.  When the amended complaint was filed in 1998, the petitioners no longer raised the issue of the trial court’s lack of jurisdiction.  Instead, they proceeded to trial, all the time aware of the existence of the IPRA as evidenced by the cross-examination conducted by petitioners’ lawyer on the CSTFAL Chairman Guillermo Fianza.  In the cross-examination, it was revealed that the petitioners were aware that the DENR, through the CSTFAL, had lost its jurisdiction over ancestral land claims by virtue of the enactment of the IPRA.  They assailed the validity of the CSTFAL resolution favoring respondent on the ground that the CSTFAL had been rendered functus officio under the IPRA.  Inexplicably, petitioners still did not question the trial court’s jurisdiction.

When petitioners recoursed to the appellate court, they only raised as errors the trial court’s appreciation of the evidence and the conclusions that it derived therefrom.  In their brief, they once again assailed the CSTFAL’s resolution as having been rendered functus officio by the enactment of IPRA.  But nowhere did petitioners assail the trial court’s ruling for having been rendered without jurisdiction.

It is only before this Court, eight years after the filing of the complaint, after the trial court had already conducted a full-blown trial and rendered a decision on the merits, after the appellate court had made a thorough review of the records, and after petitioners have twice encountered adverse decisions from the trial and the appellate courts — that petitioners now want to expunge all the efforts that have gone into the litigation and resolution of their case and start all over again.  This practice cannot be allowed.  Thus, even assuming arguendo that petitioners’ theory about the effect of IPRA is correct (a matter which need not be decided here), they are already barred by laches from raising their jurisdictional objection under the circumstances.  Delfin Lamsis, et al. vs. Margarita Semon Dong-e, G.R. No. 173021, October 20, 2010.

Jurisdiction; determined by allegations in complaint.  Settled is the rule that jurisdiction in ejectment cases is determined by the allegations pleaded in the complaint. It cannot be made to depend on the defenses set up in the answer or pleadings filed by the defendant. Neither can it be made to depend on the exclusive characterization of the case by one of the parties. The test for determining the sufficiency of those allegations is whether, admitting the facts alleged, the court can render a valid judgment in accordance with the prayer of the plaintiff.  Esmeraldo C. Romullo, et al. vs.. Samahang Magkakapitbahay ng Bayanihan Compound Homeowners Association, Inc. represented by its President, Paquito Quitalig, G.R. No. 180687, October 6, 2010

Jurisdiction; jurisdiction by estoppel. Considering the foregoing discussion, we find no need to remand the case to the trial court for the resolution of Bayerphil’s counterclaim.  In Metromedia Times Corporation v. Pastorin, we discussed the rule as to when jurisdiction by estoppel applies and when it does not, thus:

Lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit is yet another matter.  Whenever it appears that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, the action shall be dismissed (Section 2, Rule 9, Rules of Court).  This defense may be interposed at any time, during appeal (Roxas vs. Rafferty, 37 Phil. 957) or even after final judgment (Cruzcosa vs. Judge Concepcion, et al., 101 Phil. 146).  Such is understandable, as this kind of jurisdiction is conferred by law and not within the courts, let alone the parties, to themselves determine or conveniently set aside.  In People vs. Casiano (111 Phil. 73, 93-94), this Court, on the issue of estoppel, held:

“The operation of the principle of estoppel on the question of jurisdiction seemingly depends upon whether the lower court actually had jurisdiction or not.  If it had no jurisdiction, but the case was tried and decided upon the theory that it had jurisdiction, the parties are not barred, on appeal, from assailing such jurisdiction, for the same ‘must exist as a matter of law, and may not be conferred by consent of the parties or by estoppel’ (5 C.J.S., 861-863).  However, if the lower court had jurisdiction, and the case was heard and decided upon a given theory, such, for instance, as that the court had no jurisdiction, the party who induced it to adopt such theory will not be permitted, on appeal, to assume an inconsistent position – that the lower court had jurisdiction.  Here, the principle of estoppel applies.  The rule that jurisdiction is conferred by law, and does not depend upon the will of the parties, has no bearing thereon.”

In this case, the trial court had jurisdiction over the counterclaim although it erroneously ordered its automatic dismissal.  As already discussed, the trial court should have instead directed Bayerphil to pay the required docket fees within a reasonable time.  Even then, records show that the trial court heard the counterclaim although it again erroneously found the same to be unmeritorious.  Besides, it must also be mentioned that Bayerphil was lulled into believing that its counterclaim was indeed compulsory and thus there was no need to pay docket fees by virtue of Judge Claravall’s October 24, 1990 Resolution.  Petitioners also actively participated in the adjudication of the counterclaim which the trial court adjudge to be unmeritorious.  Calibre Traders Inc., Mario Sison Sebastian and Minda Blanco Sebastian vs. Bayer Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 161431, October 13, 2010.

Jurisdiction; payment of docket fees. EIB asserts that the trial court has no jurisdiction over the complaint on account of insufficient dockets fees. Although petitioners paid a total of PhP 120,758.80 in legal fees with the RTC, EIB argues that what was paid is based merely on petitioners’ prayer for moral damages of PhP 3 million, exemplary damages of PhP 3 million, and attorney’s fees of PhP 2 million, but not including petitioners’ claim for PhP 4.5 million as actual damages as averred in paragraph 9 of the complaint.  Thus, EIB, relying on Manchester Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals (Manchester) and Sun Insurance Office, Ltd. v. Asuncion, maintains that the RTC should not have entertained the case.

It is hornbook law that courts acquire jurisdiction over a case only upon payment of the prescribed docket fee. A plain reading of the prayer does not show that petitioners asked for the payment of actual damages of PhP 4.5 million.  The reliefs asked by petitioners in the prayer are:

  1. Upon the filing of the Complaint, a writ of preliminary attachment be issued ex parte against defendant pursuant to Section 2, Rule 57 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure;
  2. After trial, judgment rendered in favor of plaintiffs and against defendant as follows:

On the FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION – declaring void the sale by defendant of the 32,180,000 DMCI shares of stock of plaintiffs and directing defendant to return to plaintiffs the latter’s 32,180,000 DMCI shares of stock, or in the event the return thereof is not possible, holding defendant liable under Articles 1888,1889,1909 and other pertinent provisions of the Civil Code.

On the SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION – directing defendant to pay plaintiffs moral damages in the amount of at least P3,000,000.00;

On the THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION – directing defendant to pay plaintiffs exemplary damages in the amount of at least P3,000,000.00; and

On the FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION – directing defendant to pay plaintiffs attorney’s fees in the amount of P2,000,000.00 and such amounts as may be proven at the trial as litigation expenses.

Other just and equitable relief are likewise prayed for.

Since the prayer did not ask for the payment of actual damages of PhP 4.5 million, the clerk of court correctly assessed the amount of PhP 120,758.80 as docket fees based on the total amount of PhP 8 million consisting of PhP 3 million as moral damages, PhP 3 million as exemplary damages, and PhP 2 million as attorney’s fees.

In disputing the fees paid by petitioners, respondent relies on our ruling in Manchester, where we said that “all complaints, petitions, answers and other similar pleadings should specify the amount of damages being prayed for not only in the body of the pleading but also in the prayer, and said damages shall be considered in the assessment of the filing fees in any case.”

EIB insinuates that petitioners, by alleging the substantial loss of PhP 4.5 million from the sale of the DMCI shares but not specifying the amount in their prayer, circumvented the Manchester ruling to evade the payment of the correct filing fees. This postulation is incorrect. It is clear that petitioners demanded the return of the DMCI shares in the prayer of the complaint and NOT the alleged loss in the value of the shares. If the DMCI shares are returned, then no actual damages are suffered by petitioners. A recall of the averment in par. 9 of the complaint shows that the alleged loss of PhP 4.5 million to petitioners resulted from the sale of DMCI shares at PhP 0.24 per share when they acquired it at PhP 0.38 per share. More importantly, the court was proscribed by the Manchester ruling from granting actual damages of PhP 4.5 million to petitioners, because precisely the alleged damages were never sought in the prayer. Ergo, EIB’s attack on the trial court’s assumption of jurisdiction must fail.  Pacific Rehouse Corporation, et al. vs. EIB Securities, Inc., G.R. No. 184036, October 13, 2010.

Jurisdiction; Supreme Court’s certiorari jurisdiction over rulings of Commission on Elections (COMELEC). First, both the COMELEC and the private respondents posit that the Court improperly exercised its limited certiorari jurisdiction; they theorize that Mitra’s petition failed to allege and show errors of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COMELEC.  They also stress that the Court should respect and consider the COMELEC’s findings of fact to be final and non-reviewable.  The COMELEC’s submission in this regard – that the extraordinary remedy of certiorari is limited to corrections of questions of law and that the factual issues raised in the present petition are not appropriate for a petition for review on certiorari – is wholly erroneous.  This submission appears to have confused the standards of the Court’s power of review under Rule 65 and Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, leading the COMELEC to grossly misread the import of Mitra’s petition before the Court.

To recall, Mitra brought his case before us via a petition for certiorari, pursuant to Section 2, Rule 64, in relation to Rule 65, of the Rules of Court.  Thus, in our July 2, 2010 Decision, we emphasized that our review (under the Rule 65 standard of grave abuse of discretion, and not under the Rule 45 question of law standard) is based on a very limited ground, i.e., on the jurisdictional issue of whether the COMELEC acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.   The basis for the Court’s review of COMELEC rulings under the standards of Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is Section 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution which provides that “[U]nless otherwise provided by [the] Constitution or by law, any decision, order, or ruling of each Commission may be brought to the Supreme Court on certiorari by the aggrieved party within thirty days from receipt of a copy thereof.” For this reason, the Rules of Court provide for a separate rule (Rule 64) specifically applicable only to decisions of the COMELEC and the Commission on Audit.  This Rule expressly refers to the application of Rule 65 in the filing of a petition for certiorari, subject to the exception clause – “except as hereinafter provided.”

In Aratuc v. Commission on Elections and Dario v. Mison, the Court construed the above-cited constitutional provision as relating to the special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 (although with a different reglementary period for filing) and not to an appeal by certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.  Thus, Section 2 of Rule 64 of the Rules of Court now clearly specifies that the mode of review is the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65, except as therein provided.  In Ocate v. Commission on Elections, we further held that:

The purpose of a petition for certiorari is to determine whether the challenged tribunal has acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  Thus, any resort to a petition for certiorari under Rule 64 in relation to Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is limited to the resolution of jurisdictional issues.

The COMELEC should likewise be aware that the Constitution itself, in defining judicial power, pointedly states that –

Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

 

This provision, more than anything else, identifies the power and duty of this Court in grave abuse of discretion situations, and differentiates this authority from the power of review by appeal that Rule 45 of the Rules of Court defines.

 

Based on these considerations, we cannot accept the COMELEC’s position that patently confuses the mode of review in election cases under Rules 64 and 65 of the Rules of Court, with the appellate review that Rule 45 of the same Rules provides.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Jurisdiction; Supreme Court’s certiorari jurisdiction over rulings of COMELEC; review of factual issues. We likewise reject the COMELEC and the private respondents’ proposition that the Court erred in exercising its limited certiorari jurisdiction.  Although the COMELEC is admittedly the final arbiter of all factual issues as the Constitution and the Rules of Court provide, we stress that in the presence of grave abuse of discretion, our constitutional duty is to intervene and not to shy away from intervention simply because a specialized agency has been given the authority to resolve the factual issues.  As we emphasized in our Decision, we have in the past recognized exceptions to the general rule that the Court ordinarily does not review in a certiorari case the COMELEC’s appreciation and evaluation of evidence.  One such exception is when the COMELEC’s appreciation and evaluation of evidence go beyond the limits of its discretion to the point of being grossly unreasonable.  In this situation, we are duty bound under the Constitution to intervene and correct COMELEC errors that, because of the attendant grave abuse of discretion, have mutated into errors of jurisdiction.

Our Decision clearly pointed out Mitra’s submissions and arguments on grave abuse of discretion, namely, that the COMELEC failed to appreciate that the case is a cancellation of a COC proceeding and that the critical issue is the presence of deliberate false material representation to deceive the electorate.  In fact, Mitra’s petition plainly argued that the COMELEC’s grave abuse of discretion was patent when it failed to consider that the ground to deny a COC is deliberate false representation.  We completely addressed this issue and, in the process, analyzed the reasoning in the assailed COMELEC decision. At every step, we found that the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in the appreciation of the evidence.

Second, the private respondents contend that the COMELEC did not use subjective non-legal standards (i.e., interior decoration of the room) in arriving at its decision; it merely stated how it perceived Mitra’s alleged residence.  The private respondents additionally claim that the quantum of evidence necessary to overturn the findings of the COMELEC should be clear and convincing evidence, which level of evidence does not obtain in the present case.  The assailed COMELEC ruling speaks for itself on the matter of the standards the COMELEC used.  We found that the COMELEC plainly used a subjective non-legal standard in its analysis and thereby, the COMELEC used wrong considerations in arriving at the conclusion that Mitra’s residence at the Maligaya Feedmill is not the residence contemplated by law.  We reiterate that the COMELEC based its ruling that Mitra did not take up residence in Aborlan largely on the photographs of Mitra’s Aborlan premises; it concluded that the photographed premises could not have been a residence because of its assessment of the interior design and furnishings of the room.  Thus, the COMELEC Second Division’s Resolution (which the COMELEC en banc fully supported) did not merely conclude that Mitra does not live in the photographed premises; more than this, it ruled that these premises cannot be considered a home or a residence, for lack of the qualities of a home that the Second Division wanted to see.  To quote:

The pictures presented by Mitra of his supposed “residence” are telling.  The said pictures show a small, sparsely furnished room which is evidently unlived in and which is located on the second floor of a structure that appears like a factory or a warehouse.  These pictures likewise show that the “residence” appears hastily set-up, cold, and utterly devoid of any [personality] which would have imprinted Mitra’s personality thereto such as old family photographs and memorabilia collected through the years.  In fact, an appreciation of Mitra’s supposed “residence” raises doubts whether or not he indeed lives there.  Verily, what is lacking therein are the loving attention and details inherent in every home to make it one’s residence.  Perhaps, at most, and to this Commission’s mind, this small room could have served as Mitra’s resting area whenever he visited the said locality but nothing more.

This observation coupled with the numerous statements from former employees and customers of Maligaya Feed Mill and Farm that Mitra’s residence is located in an unsavory location, considering the noise and pollution of being in a factory area, and that the same, in fact, had been Maligaya Feed Mill’s office just a few months back, militates against Mitra’s claim that the same has been his residence since early 2008.  These information make it clear to this Commission that this room is not a home.

Thus presented, the COMELEC’s requirement of what should be considered a “residence” cannot but be a highly subjective one that finds no basis in law, in jurisprudence, or even in fact.

Third, we cannot likewise agree with the private respondents’ theory that the quantum of evidence necessary to overturn the factual findings of the COMELEC should be clear and convincing evidence, as it misappreciates that we nullified the COMELEC’s findings because it used the wrong considerations in arriving at its conclusions.  The private respondents fail to realize that the important considerations in the present case relate to questions bearing on the cancellation of the COC that they prayed for; the main critical points are the alleged deliberate misrepresentation by Mitra and the underlying question of his residency in Aborlan, Palawan.  While it is undisputed that Mitra’s domicile of origin is Puerto Princesa City, Mitra adequately proved by substantial evidence that he transferred by incremental process to Aborlan beginning 2008, and concluded his transfer in early 2009.  As our Decision discussed and as repeated elsewhere in this Resolution, the private respondents failed to establish by sufficiently convincing evidence that Mitra did not effectively transfer, while the COMELEC not only grossly misread the evidence but even used the wrong considerations in appreciating the submitted evidence.  To convince us of their point of view, the private respondents point out that we (1) totally disregarded the other evidence they submitted, which the COMELEC, on the other hand, properly considered; (2) disregarded the import of the effectivity of the lease contract, which showed that it was only effective until February 28, 2010; and (3) disregarded the evidence showing that Mitra failed to abandon his domicile of origin.  These issues are not new issues; we extensively and thoroughly considered and resolved them in our July 2, 2010 Decision.  At this point, we only need to address some of the private respondents’ misleading points in order to clear the air.

1.  The private respondents’ reliance on the expiration date of the lease contract, to disprove Mitra’s claim that the room at the Maligaya Feedmill is his residence, is misplaced.  This argument is flimsy since the contract did not provide that it was completely and fully time-barred and was only up to February 28, 2010; it was renewable at the option of the parties.  That a lease is fixed for a one-year term is a common practice.  What is important is that it is renewable at the option of the parties.  In the absence of any objection from the parties, the lease contract simply continues and is deemed renewed.

2.  In an attempt to show that Mitra considers himself a resident of Puerto Princesa City, the private respondents submitted in their Motion for Reconsideration a colored certified true copy of Mitra’s alleged Puerto Princesa City Community Tax Certificate (CTC) dated February 3, 2009 allegedly showing Mitra’s signature.  To recall, we found that based on the records before us, the purported February 3, 2009 CTC did not bear the signature of Mitra.  Although the private respondents have belatedly filed this evidence, we carefully examined the recently submitted colored copy of the February 3, 2009 CTC and saw no reason to reverse our finding; the “alleged signature” appears to us to be a mere  hazy “superimposition” that does not bear any resemblance at all to Mitra’s signature.  We, thus, stand by our ruling that the February 3, 2009 CTC, if at all, carries very little evidentiary value.  It did it not at all carry Mitra’s signature; his secretary’s positive testimony that she secured the CTC for Mitra, without the latter’s participation and knowledge, still stands unrefuted.

3.  The private respondents likewise belatedly submitted a Certification, dated July 17, 2010, from the Municipal Agriculturist of Aborlan, stating that its office does not have any record of the supposed pineapple plantation in Barangay Isaub, Aborlan, Palawan.  This late submission was made to show that Mitra has no established business interests in Aborlan.  The Certification pertinently states:

This is to certify that as of this date, there is no existing records/registration in our office regarding the alleged pineapple plantation in Barangay Isaub, Aborlan, Palawan.  However, the Office of the Municipal Agriculturist is on the process of gathering data on the Master list of Farmers engaged in growing High Value Commercial Crops in Aborlan.

This certification is issued to MR. BENJAMIN KATON a resident in Penida Subdivision, Puerto Princesa City for whatever legal purposes may serve him best.

We cannot give any evidentiary value to this submission for two reasons.  First, it was filed only on reconsideration stage and was not an evidence before us when the case was submitted for resolution.  Second, even if it had not been filed late, the Certification does not prove anything; it is, on its face, contradictory.  On the one hand, it categorically states that there are no existing records of any pineapple plantation in Barangay Isaub, Aborlan, Palawan; on the other hand, it also expressly states that its records are not yet complete since it is “on the process of gathering data on the Master list of Farmers engaged in growing High Value Commercial Crops in Aborlan.” Under what law or regulation the certifying office has the obligation to prepare a list of agricultural business interests in Aborlan has not even been alleged.

At the risk of repetition, we reiterate that Mitra’s business interests in Aborlan stand undisputed in the present case.  Not only was Mitra able to present photographs of his experimental pineapple plantation; his claim of ownership was also corroborated by the statements of Dr. Carme Caspe, Ricardo Temple and other witnesses.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Litis pendentia; requisites.  Moreover, this Court rejects the contention of petitioners that the RTC and the CA erred in not dismissing the complaint of respondent on the ground of litis pendentia, in view of the pendency of the HLURB case.  The requisites of litis pendentia are the following: (a) identity of parties, or at least such as representing the same interests in both actions; (b) identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (c) identity of the two cases such that judgment in one, regardless of which party is successful, would amount to res judicata in the other.  The causes of action and, logically, the issues in the two cases, are clearly different, each requiring divergent adjudication.  In short, while there is identity of parties, there are different issues, causes of action, and reliefs prayed for between them. Contrary to petitioners’ posture, not all the elements of litis pendentia are present.  Appropos is the CA’s ruling:

The suit filed with the HLURB involves:  (1) the reinstatement of the petitioners as members of the respondent, which was their community association; (2) a call for regular annual meetings; (3) elections for board of directors; ([4]) an accounting of funds; and ([5]) the annulment of the board resolutions which expelled them as members and disqualified them to be beneficiaries of the housing program.  On the other hand, the ejectment case has in issue the better right of the petitioners or of the respondent to the physical possession of the lots occupied by petitioners. Clearly, therefore, no identity of the rights asserted and the reliefs prayed for exist in both cases.  Esmeraldo C. Romullo, et al. vs. Samahang Magkakapitbahay ng Bayanihan Compound Homeowners Association, Inc. represented by its President, Paquito Quitalig, G.R. No. 180687, October 6, 2010

Mediation; effect of failure to appear. In Senarlo v. Judge Paderanga, this Court accentuated that mediation is part of pre-trial and failure of the plaintiff to appear thereat merits sanction on the part of the absent party.  This court held:

A.M. No. 01-10-5-SC-PHILJA dated 16 October 2001, otherwise known as the Second Revised Guidelines for the Implementation of Mediation Proceedings and Section 5, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court grant judges the discretion to dismiss an action for failure of the plaintiff to appear at mediation proceedings.

A.M. No. 01-10-5-SC-PHILJA considers mediation a part of pre-trial and provides sanctions for the absent party:

12. Sanctions.

Since mediation is part of Pre-Trial, the trial court shall impose the appropriate sanction including but not limited to censure, reprimand, contempt and such sanctions as are provided under the Rules of Court for failure to appear for pre-trial, in case any or both of the parties absent himself/themselves, or for abusive conduct during mediation proceedings.

Under Rule 18, Section 5 of the Rules of Court, failure of the plaintiff to appear at pre-trial shall be cause for dismissal of the action:

Sec. 5. Effect of failure to appear. – The failure of the plaintiff to appear when so required pursuant to the next preceding section shall be cause for dismissal of the action.  The dismissal shall be with prejudice, unless otherwise ordered by the court.  A similar failure on the part of the defendant shall be cause to allow the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof.

Real Bank Inc. vs. Samsung Mabuhay Corporation, et al., G.R. No. 175862, October 13, 2010.

Mootness. Certainly, with the dismissal of the non-bailable case against accused Guisande, she is no longer under peril to be confined in a jail facility, much less at the NCMH. Effectively, accused Guisande’s person, and treatment of any medical and mental malady she may or may not have, can no longer be subjected to the lawful processes of the RTC Mandaluyong City. In short, the cases have now been rendered moot and academic which, in the often cited David v. Macapagal-Arroyo, is defined as “one that ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical use or value.”  David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande vs. Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr. etc., et al. / Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr., etc., et al. vs. David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande, G.R. Nos. 190108, 190473. October 19, 2010.

Motions; motion for reconsideration. We note at the outset that the COMELEC and private respondents’ arguments are mere rehashes of their previous submissions; they are the same arguments addressing the issues we already considered and passed upon in our July 2, 2010 Decision.  Thus, both the COMELEC and private respondents failed to raise any new and substantial argument meriting reconsideration.  The denial of the motion for oral arguments proceeds from this same reasoning; mere reiterations of the parties’ original submissions on issues our Decision has sufficiently covered, without more, do not merit the time, effort and attention that an oral argument shall require.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Motions; period to file motion for reconsideration is non-extendible. The appellate court was correct in denying petitioner’s motion for extension of time to file a motion for reconsideration considering that the reglementary period for filing the said motion for reconsideration is non-extendible.  As pronounced in Apex Mining Co., Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue,

The rule is and has been that the period for filing a motion for reconsideration is non-extendible.  The Court has made this clear as early as 1986 in Habaluyas Enterprises vs. Japzon. Since then, the Court has consistently and strictly adhered thereto.

Given the above, we rule without hesitation that the appellate court’s denial of petitioner’s motion for reconsideration is justified, precisely because petitioner’s earlier motion for extension of time did not suspend/toll the running of the 15-day reglementary period for filing a motion for reconsideration. Under the circumstances, the CA decision has already attained finality when petitioner filed its motion for reconsideration. It follows that the same decision was already beyond the review jurisdiction of this Court.  Cynthia S. Bolos vs. Danilo T. Bolos, G.R. No. 186400, October 20, 2010.

Oral argument. We note at the outset that the COMELEC and private respondents’ arguments are mere rehashes of their previous submissions; they are the same arguments addressing the issues we already considered and passed upon in our July 2, 2010 Decision.  Thus, both the COMELEC and private respondents failed to raise any new and substantial argument meriting reconsideration.  The denial of the motion for oral arguments proceeds from this same reasoning; mere reiterations of the parties’ original submissions on issues our Decision has sufficiently covered, without more, do not merit the time, effort and attention that an oral argument shall require.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Parties; foreign corporation; capacity to sue; estoppel. The determination of a corporation’s capacity is a factual question that requires the elicitation of a preponderant set of facts.  As a rule, unlicensed foreign non-resident corporations doing business in the Philippines cannot file suits in the Philippines.  This is mandated under Section 133 of the Corporation Code, which reads:

Sec. 133.  Doing business without a license. – No foreign corporation transacting business in the Philippines without a license, or its successors or assigns, shall be permitted to maintain or intervene in any action, suit or proceeding in any court or administrative agency of the Philippines, but such corporation may be sued or proceeded against before Philippine courts or administrative tribunals on any valid cause of action recognized under Philippine laws.

A corporation has a legal status only within the state or territory in which it was organized. For this reason, a corporation organized in another country has no personality to file suits in the Philippines. In order to subject a foreign corporation doing business in the country to the jurisdiction of our courts, it must acquire a license from the Securities and Exchange Commission and appoint an agent for service of process. Without such license, it cannot institute a suit in the Philippines.

The exception to this rule is the doctrine of estoppel. Global is estopped from challenging Surecomp’s capacity to sue.  A foreign corporation doing business in the Philippines without license may sue in Philippine courts a Filipino citizen or a Philippine entity that had contracted with and benefited from it.  A party is estopped from challenging the personality of a corporation after having acknowledged the same by entering into a contract with it.  The principle is applied to prevent a person contracting with a foreign corporation from later taking advantage of its noncompliance with the statutes, chiefly in cases where such person has received the benefits of the contract.   Global Business Holdings, Inc. vs. Surecomp Software B.V., G.R. No. 173463. October 13, 2010

Pleadings; certification on forum shopping; authority of President to execute on behalf of corporation even without board authorization. In Hutama-RSEA/Super Max Phils., J.V. v. KCD Builders Corporation, Hutama as petitioner therein questioned the verification and certification on non-forum shopping of respondent KCD which the latter attached to its Complaint for Sum of Money filed before the RTC.  According to Hutama, KCD’s president did not present any proof that he is authorized by the corporation to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping. In explaining the requirement of verification and certification against forum-shopping and upholding the authority of the president of the corporation to execute the same sans proof of authority, this Court has this to say:

A pleading is verified by an affidavit that an affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct as to his personal knowledge or based on authentic records.  The party does not need to 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.

On the other hand, a certification of non-forum shopping is a certification under oath by the plaintiff or principal party in the complaint or other initiatory pleading, asserting a claim for relief, or in a sworn certification annexed thereto and simultaneously filed therewith, that (a) he has not theretofore commenced any action or filed any claim involving the same issues in any court, tribunal or quasi-judicial agency and, to the best of his knowledge, no such other action or claim is pending therein; (b) if there is such other pending action or claim, a complete statement of the present status thereof; and (c) if he should thereafter learn that the same or similar action or claim has been filed or is pending, he shall report that fact within five days therefrom to the court wherein his aforesaid complaint or initiatory pleading has been filed.

It is true that the power of a corporation to sue and be sued is lodged in the board of directors that exercises its corporate powers.  However, it is settled – and we have so declared in numerous decisions – that the president of a corporation may sign the verification and the certification of non-forum shopping.

In Ateneo de Naga University v. Manalo, we held that the lone signature of the University President was sufficient to fulfill the verification requirement, because such officer had sufficient knowledge to swear to the truth of the allegations in the petition.

In People’s Aircargo and Warehousing Co., Inc. v. CA, we held that in the absence of a charter or by-law provision to the contrary, the president of a corporation is presumed to have the authority to act within the domain of the general objectives of its business and within the scope of his or her usual duties.  Moreover, even if a certain contract or undertaking is outside the usual powers of the president, the corporation’s ratification of the contract or undertaking and the acceptance of benefits therefrom make the corporate president’s actions binding on the corporation.  (Citations omitted.)

Moreover, this Court’s pronouncement in Cagayan Valley Drug Corporation v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, reiterated in PNCC Skyway Traffic Management and Security Division Workers Organization v. PNCC Skyway Corporation and Mid-Pasig Land Development Corporation v. Tablante, on the authority of certain officers and employees of the corporation to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping is likewise significant, to wit:

It must be borne in mind that Sec. 23, in relation to Sec. 25 of the Corporation Code, clearly enunciates that all corporate powers are exercised, all business conducted, and all properties controlled by the board of directors.  A corporation has a separate and distinct personality from its directors and officers and can only exercise its corporate powers through the board of directors.  Thus, it is clear that an individual corporate officer cannot solely exercise any corporate power pertaining to the corporation without authority from the board of directors.  This has been our constant holding in cases instituted by a corporation.

In a slew of cases, however, we have recognized the authority of some corporate officers to sign the verification and certification against forum shopping.  In Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority v. CA, we recognized the authority of a general manager or acting general manager to sign the verification and certificate against forum shopping;  in Pfizer v. Galan, we upheld the validity of a verification signed by an “employment specialist” who had not even presented any proof of her authority to represent the company; in Novelty Philippines Inc., v. CA, we ruled that a personnel officer who signed the petition but did not attach the authority from the company is authorized to sign the verification and non-forum shopping certificate; and in Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company v. WMC Resources International Pty. Ltd. (Lepanto), we ruled that the Chairperson of the Board and President of the Company can sign the verification and certificate against non-forum shopping even without the submission of the board’s authorization.

In sum, we have held that the following officials or employees of the company can sign the verification and certification without need of a board resolution: (1) the Chairperson of the Board of Directors, (2) the President of a corporation, (3) the General Manager or Acting General Manager, (4) Personnel Officer, and (5) an Employment Specialist in a labor case.

While the above cases do not provide a complete listing of authorized signatories to the verification and certification required by the rules, the determination of the sufficiency of the authority was done on a case to case basis.  The rationale applied in the foregoing cases is to justify the authority of corporate officers or representatives of the corporation to sign the verification or certificate against forum shopping, being ‘in a position to verify the truthfulness and correctness of the allegations in the petition’.     (Citations omitted.)

From the foregoing, it is clear that Albao, as President and Manager of Cebu Metro, has the authority to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping even without the submission of a written authority from the board.  As the corporation’s President and Manager, she is in a position to verify the truthfulness and correctness of the allegations in the petition.  In addition, such an act is presumed to be included in the scope of her authority to act within the domain of the general objectives of the corporation’s business and her usual duties in the absence of any contrary provision in the corporation’s charter or by-laws.  Having said this, there is therefore no more need to discuss whether the authority granted to Albao under Board Resolution No. 2001-06 is only limited to representing Cebu Metro in the court hearings before the MTCC or extends up to signing of the verification and certification of non-forum shopping on appeal.  Again, even without such proof of authority, Albao, as Cebu Metro’s President and Manager, is justified in signing said verification and certification. Thus, the CA should not have considered as fatal Cebu Metro’s failure to attach a Secretary’s Certificate attesting to Albao’s authority to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping and dismissed the petition or should have reinstated the same after Cebu Metro’s submission of the Secretary’s Certificate showing that Board Resolution No. 2001-06 confirmed the election of Albao as the corporation’s President and Manager.  Moreover, the fact that the Board of Directors of Cebu Metro ratified Albao’s authority to represent the corporation in the appeal of the MTCC Decision in Civil Case No. R-44430 before the RTC, CA, and this Court, and consequently to sign the verification and certification on its behalf by the passage of Resolution No. 2004-05 confirming and affirming her authority only gives this Court more reason to uphold such authority.  Cebu Metro Pharmacy, Inc. vs. Euro-Med Laboratories, Inc., G.R. No. 164757, October 18, 2010.

Pleadings; certification on forum shopping; necessity of board resolution; subsequent compliance does not excuse failure to comply with requirement in first instance. In particular, on the matter of the certificate of non-forum shopping that was similarly at issue, Tible pointedly said:

x x x the requirement under Administrative Circular No. 04-94 for a certificate of non-forum shopping is mandatory.  The subsequent compliance with said requirement does not excuse a party’s failure to comply therewith in the first instance. In those cases where this Court excused the non-compliance with the requirement of the submission of a certificate of non-forum shopping, it found special circumstances or compelling reasons which made the strict application of said Circular clearly unjustified or inequitable.  x x x [Emphasis supplied.]

This same rule was echoed in Mediserv v. Court of Appeals where we said in the course of allowing a liberal justification:

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. [Emphasis supplied.]

To be sure, BPI’s cited Shipside case also involved the absence of proof – attached to the petition – that the filing officer was authorized to sign the verification and non-forum shopping certification. In the Motion for Reconsideration that followed the dismissal of the case, the movant attached a certificate issued by its board secretary stating that ten (10) days prior to the filing of the petition, the filing officer had been authorized by petitioner’s board of directors to file said petition.  Thus, proper authority existed but was simply not attached to the petition. On this submission, the petitioner sought and the Court positively granted relief.

In the present case, we do not see a situation comparable to the cited Shipside. BPI did not submit any proof of authority in the first instance because it did not believe that a board resolution evidencing such authority was necessary. We note that instead of immediately submitting an appropriate board resolution – after the First Union and Linda filed their motion to dismiss – BPI argued that it was not required to submit one and even argued that:

The Complaint can only be dismissed under Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure if there was no certification against forum shopping.  The Complaint has.  The provision cited does not even require that the person certifying show proof of his authority to do so x x x.

In fact, BPI merely attached to its opposition a special power of attorney issued by Mr. Kabigting, a bank vice-president, granting Asis and Ong the authority to file the complaint.  Thus, no direct authority to file a complaint was initially ever given by BPI – the corporate entity in whose name and behalf the complaint was filed.  Only in its Reply to the Comment to plaintiff’s Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss did BPI “beg the kind indulgence of the Honorable Court as it inadvertently failed to submit with the Special Power of Attorney the Corporate Secretary’s Certificate which authorized Mr. Zosimo Kabigting to appoint his substitutes.  Even this submission, however, was a roundabout way of authorizing the filing officers to file the complaint.

BPI, interestingly, never elaborated nor explained its belatedly claimed inadvertence in failing to submit a corporate secretary’s certificate directly authorizing its representatives to file the complaint; it particularly failed to specify the circumstances that led to the claimed inadvertence. Under the given facts, we cannot but conclude that, rather than an inadvertence, there was an initial unwavering stance that the submission of a specific authority from the board was not necessary.  In blunter terms, the omission of the required board resolution in the complaint was neither an excusable deficiency nor an omission that occurred through inadvertence.  In the usual course in the handling of a case, the failure was a mistake of counsel that BPI never cared to admit but which nevertheless bound it as a client.  From this perspective, BPI’s case is different from Shipside so that the ruling in this cited case cannot apply.

Under the circumstances, what applies to the present case is the second paragraph of Section 5, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court which states:

Failure to comply with the foregoing requirements shall not be curable by mere amendment of the complaint or other initiatory pleading but shall be cause for the dismissal of the case without prejudice, unless otherwise provided, upon motion and after hearing.

We thus hold that the dismissal of the case is the appropriate ruling from this Court, without prejudice to its refiling as the Rules allow.

We end this Decision by quoting our parting words in Melo v. Court of Appeals:

We are not unmindful of the adverse consequence to private respondent of a dismissal of her complaint, nor of the time, effort, and money spent litigating up to this Court solely on a so-called technical ground.  Nonetheless, we hold that compliance with the certification requirement on non-forum shopping should not be made subject to a party’s afterthought, lest the policy of the law be undermined.

Bank of the Philippine Islands vs. Hon. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 168313. October 6, 2010

Pleadings; failure to state cause of action. We likewise agree with the Court of Appeals that the RTC-Branch 227 should not have dismissed respondent’s complaint for damages on the ground of failure to state a cause of action.  According to Rule 2, Section 2 of the Rules of Court, a cause of action is the act or omission by which a party violates a right of another.  When the ground for dismissal is that the complaint states no cause of action, such fact can be determined only from the facts alleged in the complaint and from no other, and the court cannot consider other matters aliunde.  The test, therefore, is whether, assuming the allegations of fact in the complaint to be true, a valid judgment could be rendered in accordance with the prayer stated therein.

Respondent made the following allegations in support of his claim for damages against petitioners:

FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION

28.     After the promulgation of the Metropolitan Trial Court of its Decision dated August 3, 1999, ordering the [herein respondent] and all person claiming rights under him to –

(a)         Vacate the leased premises;

(b)         pay the [herein petitioners] the sum of P306,000.00 as unpaid rentals from May 23, 1997 to November 22, 1998; and

(c)         pay the sum of P5,000.00 as attorneys fees;

But while said Decision was still pending appeal with the Regional Trial Court, the [petitioners], through [petitioner] Manaloto, already distributed copies of said Decision to some of the homeowners of Horseshoe Village, who personally know the [respondent].  This act is a direct assault or character assassination on the part of the [respondent] because as stated in the said decision, [respondent] has been staying in the premises but did not or refused to pay his monthly rentals for a long period of time when in truth and in fact was untrue.

29.     That from the time the said decision was distributed to said members homeowners, the [respondent] became the subject of conversation or talk of the town and by virtue of which [respondent’s] good name within the community or society where he belongs was greatly damaged; his reputation was besmirched; [respondent] suffered sleepless night and serious anxiety.  [Respondent], who is the grandson of the late Senator Jose Veloso and Congressman Ismael Veloso, was deprived of political career and to start with was to run as candidate for Barangay Chairman within their area which was being offered to him by the homeowners but this offer has started to fade and ultimately totally vanished after the distribution of said Decision.  Damages to his good names and reputations and other damages which he suffered as a consequence thereof, may be reasonably compensated for at least P1,500,000.00 as moral and consequential damages.

30.     In order to deter [petitioners] and others from doing as abovementioned, [petitioners] should likewise be assessed exemplary damages in the amount of P500,000.00.

A cause of action (for damages) exists if the following elements are present: (1) a right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created; (2) an obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; and (3) an act or omission on the part of such defendant violative of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of defendant to the plaintiff for which the latter may maintain an action for recovery of damages.  We find that all three elements exist in the case at bar.  Respondent may not have specifically identified each element, but it may be sufficiently determined from the allegations in his complaint.

First, respondent filed the complaint to protect his good character, name, and reputation.  Every man has a right to build, keep, and be favored with a good name.  This right is protected by law with the recognition of slander and libel as actionable wrongs, whether as criminal offenses or tortuous conduct.

Second, petitioners are obliged to respect respondent’s good name even though they are opposing parties in the unlawful detainer case.  As Article 19 of the Civil Code requires, “[e]very person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.”  A violation of such principle constitutes an abuse of rights, a tortuous conduct.  We expounded in Sea Commercial Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals that:

XXX                               XXX                                XXX

Petitioners are also expected to respect respondent’s “dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind” under Article 26 of the Civil Code, which provides:

XXX                               XXX                                XXX

Thus, Article 2219(10) of the Civil Code allows the recovery of moral damages for acts and actions referred to in Article 26, among other provisions, of the Civil Code.

And third, respondent alleged that the distribution by petitioners to Horseshoe Village homeowners of copies of the MeTC decision in the unlawful detainer case, which was adverse to respondent and still on appeal before the RTC-Branch 88, had no apparent lawful or just purpose except to humiliate respondent or assault his character.  As a result, respondent suffered damages – becoming the talk of the town and being deprived of his political career.

Petitioners reason that respondent has no cause of action against them since the MeTC decision in the unlawful detainer case was part of public records.

It is already settled that the public has a right to see and copy judicial records and documents.  However, this is not a case of the public seeking and being denied access to judicial records and documents.  The controversy is rooted in the dissemination by petitioners of the MeTC judgment against respondent to Horseshoe Village homeowners, who were not involved at all in the unlawful detainer case, thus, purportedly affecting negatively respondent’s good name and reputation among said homeowners.  The unlawful detainer case was a private dispute between petitioners and respondent, and the MeTC decision against respondent was then still pending appeal before the RTC-Branch 88, rendering suspect petitioners’ intentions for distributing copies of said MeTC decision to non-parties in the case.  While petitioners were free to copy and distribute such copies of the MeTC judgment to the public, the question is whether they did so with the intent of humiliating respondent and destroying the latter’s good name and reputation in the community.  Ermelinda Manaloto, et al. vs. Ismael Veloso III, G.R. No. 171365, October 6, 2010.

Pleadings; failure to state cause of action; hypothetical admission. We cannot subscribe to respondent’s argument that there is no more need for the presentation of evidence by the parties since petitioners, in moving for the dismissal of respondent’s complaint for damages, hypothetically admitted respondent’s allegations.  The hypothetical admission of respondent’s allegations in the complaint only goes so far as determining whether said complaint should be dismissed on the ground of failure to state a cause of action.  A finding that the complaint sufficiently states a cause of action does not necessarily mean that the complaint is meritorious; it shall only result in the reinstatement of the complaint and the hearing of the case for presentation of evidence by the parties.  Ermelinda Manaloto, et al. vs. Ismael Veloso III, G.R. No. 171365, October 6, 2010.

Procedural rules; cannot be discarded with mere expediency of claiming substantial merit. There is no basis for petitioner’s assertion either that the tenets of substantial justice, the novelty and importance of the issue and the meritorious nature of this case warrant a relaxation of the Rules in her favor.  Time and again the Court has stressed that the rules of procedure must be faithfully complied with and should not be discarded with the mere expediency of claiming substantial merit.  As a corollary, rules prescribing the time for doing specific acts or for taking certain proceedings are considered absolutely indispensable to prevent needless delays and to orderly and promptly discharge judicial business.  By their very nature, these rules are regarded as mandatory.  Cynthia S. Bolos vs. Danilo T. Bolos, G.R. No. 186400, October 20, 2010.

Procedural rules; instance where strict application is unwarranted. Herein respondent Samsung instituted Civil Case No. 97-86265 before the RTC, to recover the amount it claims to have lost due to the negligence of petitioner Real Bank, Inc., clearly a property right.  The substantive right of respondent Samsung to recover a due and demandable obligation cannot be diminished by an unwarranted strictness in the application of a rule of procedure.  In Calalang v. Court of Appeals, this Court underscored that unless a party’s conduct is so negligent, irresponsible, contumacious or dilatory as to provide substantial grounds for dismissal for non-appearance, the court should consider lesser sanctions which would still amount into achieving the desired end.  In Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Court of Appeals, we ruled that 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, courts should decide to dispense rather than wield their authority to dismiss.

While not at the fore of this case, it may be stated that the state of the court docket cannot justify injudicious case dismissals.  Inconsiderate dismissals, even without prejudice, do not constitute a panacea or a solution to the congestion of court dockets; while they lend a deceptive aura of efficiency to records of individual judges, they merely postpone the ultimate reckoning between the parties.  In the absence of clear lack of merit or intention to delay, justice is better served by a brief continuance, trial on the merits, and final disposition of cases before the court.

Accordingly, the ends of justice and fairness would be best served if the parties in Civil Case No. 97-86265 are given the full opportunity to thresh out the real issues in a full blown trial.  Besides, petitioner Real Bank, Inc. would not be prejudiced should the RTC proceed with Civil Case No. 97-86265 as it is not stripped of any affirmative defenses nor deprived of due process of law.

Real Bank Inc. vs. Samsung Mabuhay Corporation, et al., G.R. No. 175862, October 13, 2010.

Procedural rules; liberal application must be justified by ample reasons.  This Court has repeatedly emphasized the need to abide by the Rules of Court and the procedural requirements it imposes.  The verification of a complaint and the attachment of a certificate of non-forum shopping are requirements that – as pointed out by the Court, time and again – are basic, necessary and mandatory for procedural orderliness.  Thus, we cannot simply and in a general way apply – given the factual circumstances of this case – the liberal jurisprudential exception in Shipside and its line of cases to excuse BPI’s failure to submit a board resolution.  While we may have excused strict compliance in the past, we did so only on sufficient and justifiable grounds that compelled a liberal approach while avoiding the effective negation of the intent of the rule on non-forum shopping.  In other words, the rule for the submission of a certificate of non-forum shopping, proper in form and substance, remains to be a strict and mandatory rule; any liberal application has to be justified by ample and sufficient reasons that maintain the integrity of, and do not detract from, the mandatory character of the rule.  The rule, its relaxation and their rationale were discussed by the Court at length in Tible & Tible Company, Inc. v. Royal Savings and Loan Association where we said:

Much reliance is placed on the rule that “Courts are not slaves or robots of technical rules, shorn of judicial discretion.  In rendering justice, courts have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that on balance, technicalities take a backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around.”  This rule must always be used in the right context, lest injustice, rather than justice would be its end result.

It must never be forgotten that, generally, the application of the rules must be upheld, and the suspension or even mere relaxation of its application, is the exception.  This Court previously explained:

The Court is not impervious to the frustration that litigants and lawyers alike would at times encounter in procedural bureaucracy but imperative justice requires correct observance of indispensable technicalities precisely designed to ensure its proper dispensation.  It has long been recognized that strict compliance with the Rules of Court is indispensable for the prevention of needless delays and for the orderly and expeditious dispatch of judicial business.

Procedural rules are not to be disdained as mere technicalities that may be ignored at will to suit the convenience of a party.  Adjective law is important in ensuring the effective enforcement of substantive rights through the orderly and speedy administration of justice.  These rules are not intended to hamper litigants or complicate litigation but, indeed to provide for a system under which a suitor may be heard in the correct form and manner and at the prescribed time in a peaceful confrontation before a judge whose authority they acknowledge.

It cannot be overemphasized that procedural rules have their own wholesome rationale in the orderly administration of justice.  Justice has to be administered according to the Rules in order to obviate arbitrariness, caprice, or whimsicality. We have been cautioned and reminded in Limpot v. Court of Appeals, et al., that:

Rules of procedure are intended to ensure the orderly administration of justice and the protection of substantive rights in judicial and extrajudicial proceedings.  It is a mistake to propose that substantive law and adjective law are contradictory to each other or, as often suggested, that enforcement of procedural rules should never be permitted if it will result in prejudice to the substantive rights of the litigants.  This is not exactly true; the concept is much misunderstood.  As a matter of fact, the policy of the courts is to give both kinds of law, as complementing each other, in the just and speedy resolution of the dispute between the parties.  Observance of both substantive rights is equally guaranteed by due process, whatever the source of such rights, be it the Constitution itself or only a statute or a rule of court.

x x x x

x x x (T)hey are required to be followed except only when for the most persuasive of reasons them may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with the degree of his thoughtlessness in not complying with the procedure prescribed.  x x x While it is true that a litigation is not a game of technicalities, this does not mean that the Rules of Court may be ignored at will and at random to the prejudice of the orderly presentation and assessment of the issues and their just resolution.  Justice eschews anarchy.

Bank of the Philippine Islands vs. Hon. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 168313. October 6, 2010

Procedural rules; strict and rigid application avoided to secure substantial justice. As we have ruled often enough, rules of procedure should not be applied in a very rigid, technical sense; rules of procedure are used only to help secure, not override, substantial justice.  As we explained in Ginete v. Court of Appeals:

Let it be emphasized that the 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 reflect 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 has already declared to be final, as we are now constrained to do in the instant case.

x  x  x  x

The emerging trend in the rulings of this Court is to afford every party litigant the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause, free from the constraints of technicalities. Time and again, this Court has consistently held that rules must not be applied rigidly so as not to override substantial justice. [Emphasis supplied.]

Similarly, in de Guzman v. Sandiganbayan, we had occasion to state:

The Rules of Court was conceived and promulgated to set forth guidelines in the dispensation of justice but not to bind and chain the hand that dispenses it, for otherwise, courts will be mere slaves to or robots of technical rules, shorn of judicial discretion. That is precisely why courts in rendering justice have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that when on the balance, technicalities take a backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around. Truly then, technicalities, in the appropriate language of Justice Makalintal, “should give way to the realities of the situation. [Emphasis supplied.]

We made the same recognition in Barnes, on the underlying premise that a court’s primordial and most important duty is to render justice; in discharging the duty to render substantial justice, it is permitted to re-examine even a final and executory judgment.  Apo Fruits Corporation, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 164195, October 12, 2010.

Writ of possession; issuance not ministerial where third party holds property adversely to judgment debtor.  This rule, however, is not without exception. Under Section 33, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, which is made to apply suppletorily to the extrajudicial foreclosure of real estate mortgages by Section 6, Act 3135, as amended, the possession of the mortgaged property may be awarded to a purchaser in the extrajudicial foreclosure unless a third party is actually holding the property adversely to the judgment debtor. Section 33 provides:

Sec. 33. Deed and possession to be given at expiration of redemption period; by whom executed or given.

If no redemption be made within one (1) year from the date of the registration of the certificate of sale, the purchaser is entitled to a conveyance and possession of the property; or, if so redeemed whenever sixty (60) days have elapsed and no other redemption has been made, and notice thereof given, and the time for redemption has expired, the last redemptioner is entitled to the conveyance and possession; but in all cases the judgment obligor shall have the entire period of one (1) year from the date of the registration of the sale to redeem the property. The deed shall be executed by the officer making the sale or by his successor in office, and in the latter case shall have the same validity as though the officer making the sale had continued in office and executed it.

Upon the expiration of the right of redemption, the purchaser or redemptioner shall be substituted to and acquire all the rights, title, interest and claim of the judgment obligor to the property as of the time of the levy. The possession of the property shall be given to the purchaser or last redemptioner by the same officer unless a third party is actually holding the property adversely to the judgment obligor.

The same issue had been raised in Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Icot, Development Bank of the Philippines v. Prime Neighborhood Association, Dayot v. Shell Chemical Company (Phils.), Inc., and Philippine National Bank v. Court of Appeals, and we uniformly held that the obligation of the court to issue an ex parte writ of possession in favor of the purchaser in an extrajudicial foreclosure sale ceases to be ministerial once it appears that there is a third party in possession of the property who is claiming a right adverse to that of the debtor/mortgagor.  The purchaser’s right of possession is recognized only as against the judgment debtor and his successor-in-interest but not against persons whose right of possession is adverse to the latter.  In this case, petitioner opposed the issuance of the writ of possession on the ground that he is in actual possession of the mortgaged property under a claim of ownership. He explained that his title to the property was cancelled by virtue of a falsified deed of donation executed in favor of spouses Peñaredondo. Because of this falsification, he filed civil and criminal cases against spouses Peñaredondo to nullify the deed of donation and to punish the party responsible for the falsified document. Petitioner’s claim that he is in actual possession of the property is not challenged, and he has come to court asserting an ownership right adverse to that of the mortgagors, the spouses Peñaredondo.

The third party’s possession of the property is legally presumed to be based on a just title, a presumption which may be overcome by the purchaser in a judicial proceeding for recovery of the property.  Through such a judicial proceeding, the nature of the adverse possession by the third party may be determined, after such third party is accorded due process and the opportunity to be heard. The third party may be ejected from the property only after he has been given an opportunity to be heard, conformably with the time-honored principle of due process.  The Civil Code protects the actual possessor of a property, as Article 433 thereof provides:

Art. 433. Actual possession under claim of ownership raises  disputable presumption of ownership. The true owner must resort to judicial process for the recovery of the property.

One who claims to be the owner of a property possessed by another must bring the appropriate judicial action for its physical recovery. The “judicial process” could mean no less than an ejectment suit or a reivindicatory action, in which the ownership claims of the contending parties may be properly heard and adjudicated.  The ex parte petition for the issuance of a writ of possession filed by respondent, strictly speaking, is not the kind of judicial process contemplated in Article 433 of the Civil Code. Even if the same may be considered a judicial proceeding for the enforcement of one’s right of possession as purchaser in a foreclosure sale, it is not an ordinary suit filed in court, by which one party sues another for the enforcement or protection of a right, or the prevention or redress of a wrong.  Unlike a judicial foreclosure of real estate mortgage under Rule 68 of the Rules of Court where an action for foreclosure is filed before the RTC where the mortgaged property or any part thereof is situated, any property brought within the ambit of Act 3135 is foreclosed by the filing of a petition, not with any court of justice, but with the office of the sheriff of the province where the sale is to be made. As such, a third person in possession of an extrajudicially foreclosed property, who claims a right superior to that of the original mortgagor, is given no opportunity to be heard on his claim. It stands to reason, therefore, that such third person may not be dispossessed on the strength of a mere ex parte possessory writ, since to do so would be tantamount to his summary ejectment, in violation of the basic tenets of due process.

The Court cannot sanction a procedural shortcut. To enforce the writ against petitioner, an unwitting third party possessor who took no part in the foreclosure proceedings, would amount to the taking of real property without the benefit of proper judicial intervention.  Hence, it was not a ministerial duty of the trial court under Act 3135 to issue a writ of possession for the ouster of petitioner from the lot subject of this instant case, particularly in light of the latter’s opposition, claim of ownership and rightful possession of the disputed properties.

In granting respondent’s petition, the appellate court cited Ancheta v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, Inc. and PNB v. Sanao Marketing Corporation.  The invocation of these cases is misplaced.  These cases involved the propriety of the issuance of a writ of possession pending the determination of the validity of the mortgage or foreclosure proceedings filed by the mortgagor or by at least one of the mortgagors who was a party to the foreclosure proceedings. We held then that the pendency of such determination is not a bar to the issuance of the possessory writ as no discretion is left to the issuing judge.  The above-cited cases have different factual milieu which makes them inapplicable to the present case. In Ancheta and PNB, the oppositors were parties to the mortgage and the foreclosure proceedings; in the present case, the oppositor was a third party who was a stranger to the mortgage and who did not participate in the foreclosure proceedings. Moreover, in Ancheta and PNB, the oppositors objected to the issuance of the writ because of the pendency of a case for the annulment of the real estate mortgage and the foreclosure proceedings; while petitioner herein objected because he is in actual possession of the foreclosed property and he is claiming the right of ownership adverse to that of the mortgagor, the spouses Peñaredondo.  These factual circumstances in the instant case call for the application not of Ancheta and PNB but of the other set of cases thoroughly discussed above declaring that the issuance of the possessory writ is not a ministerial duty of the RTC judge.  Emmanuel C. Villanueva vs. Cherdan Lending Investors Corporation, G.R. No. 177881. October 13, 2010

Writ of possession; nature and instances of issuance. A writ of possession is an order of the court commanding the sheriff   to place a person in possession of a real or personal property.  It may be issued in an extrajudicial foreclosure of a real estate mortgage under Section 7 of Act 3135, as amended by Act 4118, either 1) within the one-year redemption period, upon the filing of a bond, or 2) after the lapse of the redemption period, without need of a bond or of a separate and independent action.  It is settled that the buyer in a foreclosure sale becomes the absolute owner of the property purchased if it is not redeemed within one year after the registration of the sale. As such, he is entitled to the possession of the  property and can demand that he be placed in possession at any time following the consolidation of ownership in his name and the issuance to him of a new TCT.  Time and again, we have held that it is ministerial upon the court to issue a writ of possession after the foreclosure sale and during the period of redemption. Upon the filing of an ex parte motion and the approval of the corresponding bond, the court issues the order for a writ of possession. The writ of possession issues as a matter of course even without the filing and approval of a bond after consolidation of ownership and the issuance of a new TCT in the name of the purchaser.  Emmanuel C. Villanueva vs. Cherdan Lending Investors Corporation, G.R. No. 177881. October 13, 2010

 

Special Proceedings

Writ of Habeas Corpus. As correctly pointed out by the OSG, the petition for the writs of habeas corpus and amparo was based on the criminal case for Qualified Theft against petitioner So’s daughter, Guisande. To recall, petitioner So claimed that the conditions and circumstances of his daughter’s, accused Guisande’s, confinement at the NCMH was “life threatening”; although Guisande was accused of a non-bailable offense, the NCMH could not adequately treat Guisande’s mental condition. Thus, to balance the conflicting right of an accused to medical treatment and the right of the prosecution to subject to court processes an accused charged with a non-bailable offense, the CA directed the transfer of Guisande from the NCMH to St. Clare’s Medical Center, while noting that because of the peculiarities of this case, there was a deviation from the regular course of procedure, since accused Guisande should have been confined in jail because she was charged with a non-bailable offense.  Notably, nowhere in the transcript of the CA hearing on December 3, 2009, nor in the Order recited in open court by Justice Pizarro, is there an affirmation of petitioner So’s claim that the confinement of accused Guisande at the NCMH was illegal. Neither were the respective acts performed by respondents Judge Tacla and Dr. Vicente in ascertaining the mental condition of accused Guisande to withstand trial declared unlawful. On the contrary, the NCMH, a well-reputed government forensic facility, albeit not held in high regard by petitioner So’s and accused Guisande’s family, had assessed Guisande fit for trial.

The Rules on the Writs of Habeas Corpus and Amparo are clear; the act or omission or the threatened act or omission complained of – confinement and custody for habeas corpus and violations of, or threat to violate, a person’s life, liberty, and security for amparo cases – should be illegal or unlawful.

Rule 102 of the Rules of Court on Habeas Corpus provides:

Sec. 1. To what habeas corpus extends. – Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, the writ of habeas corpus shall extend to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto.

while the Rule on the Writ of Amparo states:

Section 1.  Petition. – The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The writ shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.

Our decisions on the propriety of the issuance of these writs reiterate the foregoing rules. In Lourdes D. Rubrico, Jean Rubrico Apruebo, and Mary Joy Rubrico Carbonel v. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, P/Dir. Gen. Avelino Razon, Maj. Darwin Sy a.k.a Darwin Reyes, Jimmy Santana, Ruben Alfaro, Capt. Angelo Cuaresma, a certain Jonathan, P/Supt. Edgar B. Roquero, Arsenio C. Gomez, and Office of the Ombudsman, we qualified:

The privilege of the writ of amparo is envisioned basically to protect and guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and security of persons, free from fears and threats that vitiate the quality of this life. It is an extraordinary writ conceptualized and adopted in light of and in response to the prevalence of extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances. Accordingly, the remedy ought to be resorted to and granted judiciously, lest the ideal sought by the Amparo Rule be diluted and undermined by the indiscriminate filing of amparo petitions for purposes less than the desire to secure amparo reliefs and protection and/or on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

In the recent Nurhida Juhuri Ampatuan v. Judge Virgilio V. Macaraig, RTC, Manila, Branch 37, Director General Avelino Razon, Jr., Director Geary Barias, PSSupt. Co Yee M. Co, Jr., and Police Chief Inspector Agapito Quimson, we intoned:

The most basic criterion for the issuance of the writ, therefore, is that the individual seeking such relief is illegally deprived of his freedom of movement or place under some form of illegal restraint. If an individual’s liberty is restrainted via some legal process, the writ of habeas corpus is unavailing. Fundamentally, in order to justify the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, the restraint of liberty must be in the nature of an illegal and involuntary deprivation of freedom of action.

In general, the purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to determine whether or not a particular person is legally held. A prime specification of an application for a writ of habeas corpus, in fact, is an actual and effective, and not merely nominal or moral, illegal restraint of liberty. The writ of habeas corpus was devised and exists as a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint, and as the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom. xxx The essential object and purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to inquire into all manner of involuntary restraint as distinguished from voluntary, and to relieve a person therefrom if such restraint is illegal. Any restraint which will preclude freedom of action is sufficient.

In passing upon a petition for habeas corpus, a court or judge must first inquire into whether the petitioner is being restrained of his liberty. If he is not, the writ will be refused. Inquiry into the cause of detention will proceed only where such restraint exists. If the alleged cause is thereafter found to be unlawful, then the writ should be granted and the petitioner discharged. Needless to state, if otherwise, again the writ will be refused.

While habeas corpus is a writ of right, it will not issue as a matter of course or as a mere perfunctory operation on the filing of the petition. Judicial discretion is called for in its issuance and it must be clear to the judge to whom the petition is presented that, prima facie, the petitioner is entitled to the writ. It is only if the court is satisfied that a person is being unlawfully restrained of his liberty will the petition for habeas corpus be granted. If the respondents are not detaining or restraining the applicant of the person in whose behalf the petition is filed, the petition should be dismissed.

In the cases at bar, the question before the CA was correctly limited to which hospital, the NCMH or a medical facility of accused’s own choosing, accused Guisande should be referred for treatment of a supposed mental condition.   In addition, we note that it was procedurally proper for the RTC to ask the NCMH for a separate opinion on accused’s mental fitness to be arraigned and stand trial. Be that as it may, the CA allowed the transfer of accused to St. Clare’s Medical Center under the custody of Dr. Rene Yat, who was required periodically to report on his evaluation, every fifteen (15) days, to the RTC Mandaluyong City, although in the same breath, the CA also ordered the continuation of the arraignment and trial of the accused for Qualified Theft before the same trial court. In other words, Guisande remained in custody of the law to answer for the non-bailable criminal charge against her, and was simply allowed to pursue medical treatment in the hospital and from a doctor of her choice.

Certainly, with the dismissal of the non-bailable case against accused Guisande, she is no longer under peril to be confined in a jail facility, much less at the NCMH. Effectively, accused Guisande’s person, and treatment of any medical and mental malady she may or may not have, can no longer be subjected to the lawful processes of the RTC Mandaluyong City. In short, the cases have now been rendered moot and academic which, in the often cited David v. Macapagal-Arroyo, is defined as “one that ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical use or value.”

Finally, the Resolutions of the CA and Assistant City Prosecutor Escobar-Pilares, unmistakably foreclose the justiciability of the petitions before this Court.  In CA-G.R. SP No. 00039, the CA said:

We are also not swayed by [David So’s] argument that [petitioners] advanced lies to this Court when they stated in their petition that Elena was facing two (2) non-bailable offenses. During the hearing on the petition for habeas corpus/writ of amparo, the counsel for [David So] stated that Elena was facing only one (1) non-bailable offense to which [petitioners] did not anymore object. Besides, the number of non-bailable offenses is not even material in the instant case for habeas corpus/writ of amparo as the only issue to be determined here was whether or not Elena’s confinement at NCMH was lawful.

Finally, the issue in the verified petition, of whether [petitioners] were in contempt of court, is rendered moot and academic considering that this Court had already rendered its open court Order on December 8, 2009, which was favorable to [David So], and it was only later that the latter raised the issue of contempt.

Finding no merit in [David So’s] verified petition for contempt against [Judge Tacla, Dr. Vicente and the NCMH], and there being no other objections made by the parties against Our March 17, 2010 Resolution, the instant petition for habeas corpus/writ of amparo is declared CLOSED and TERMINATED.

SO ORDERED.

David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande vs. Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr. etc., et al. / Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr., etc., et al. vs. David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande, G.R. Nos. 190108, 190473. October 19, 2010.

 

Other Proceedings

Appeal; petition for review is correct mode of appeal from decisions of Special Agrarian Courts. Petitioners contend that the proper mode or remedy that should have been taken by the LBP in assailing the Decision of the RTC, acting as a Special Agrarian Court, is a petition for review and not an ordinary appeal.  The Court does not completely agree.  This same issue was squarely addressed and settled by the Court in Land Bank of the Philippines v. De Leon, wherein it was ruled that a petition for review is indeed the correct mode of appeal from decisions of Special Agrarian Courts. Therein, the Court held that “Section 60 of Republic Act No. 6657 clearly and categorically states that the said mode of appeal should be adopted.”

However, in a Resolution issued by the Court en banc, dated March 20, 2003, which ruled on the motion for reconsideration filed by the LBP, the Court clarified that its decision in De Leon shall apply only to cases appealed from the finality of the said Resolution. The Court held:

x x x  LBP pleads that the subject Decision should at least be given prospective application considering that more than 60 similar agrarian cases filed by LBP via ordinary appeal before the Court of Appeals are in danger of being dismissed outright on technical grounds on account of our ruling herein. This, according to LBP, will wreak financial havoc not only on LBP as the financial intermediary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program but also on the national treasury and the already depressed economic condition of our country. Thus, in the interest of fair play, equity and justice, LBP stresses the need for the rules to be relaxed so as to give substantial consideration to the appealed cases.

x x x x

On account of the absence of jurisprudence interpreting Sections 60 and 61 of RA 6657 regarding the proper way to appeal decisions of Special Agrarian Courts, as well as the conflicting decisions of the Court of Appeals thereon, LBP cannot be blamed for availing of the wrong mode. Based on its own interpretation and reliance on [a ruling issued by the CA holding that an ordinary appeal is the proper mode], LBP acted on the mistaken belief that an ordinary appeal is the appropriate manner to question decisions of Special Agrarian Courts.

Hence, in the light of the aforementioned circumstances, we find it proper to emphasize the prospective application of our Decision dated September 10, 2002. A prospective application of our Decision is not only grounded on equity and fair play, but also based on the constitutional tenet that rules of procedure shall not impair substantive rights.

x x x x

We hold that our Decision, declaring a petition for review as the proper mode of appeal from judgments of Special Agrarian Courts, is a rule of procedure which affects substantive rights. If our ruling is given retroactive application, it will prejudice LBP’s right to appeal because pending appeals in the Court of Appeals will be dismissed outright on mere technicality thereby sacrificing the substantial merits thereof. It would be unjust to apply a new doctrine to a pending case involving a party who already invoked a contrary view and who acted in good faith thereon prior to the issuance of said doctrine.

x x x x

WHEREFORE, the motion for reconsideration dated October 16, 2002 and the supplement to the motion for reconsideration dated November 11, 2002 are PARTIALLY GRANTED. While we clarify that the Decision of this Court dated September 10, 2002 stands, our ruling therein that a petition for review is the correct mode of appeal from decisions of Special Agrarian Courts shall apply only to cases appealed after the finality of this Resolution.

SO ORDERED.

In the present case, the LBP filed its Notice of Appeal on September 1, 1998. Thus, pursuant to the ruling that De Leon shall be applied prospectively from the finality of this Court’s Resolution dated March 20, 2003, the appeal of the LBP, which was filed prior to that date, could, thus, be positively acted upon. Jorge L. Tiangco, et al. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 153998, October 6, 2010

Intra-Corporate Controversies; motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading. Rule 1 of the Interim Rules of Procedure for Intra-Corporate Controversies specifically prohibits the filing of motions for reconsideration, to wit:

Sec. 8. Prohibited pleadings. – The following pleadings are prohibited:

(1) Motion to dismiss;

(2) Motion for a bill of particulars;

(3) Motion for new trial, or for reconsideration of judgment or order, or for re-opening of trial;

(4) Motion for extension of time to file pleadings, affidavits or any other paper, except those filed due to clearly compelling reasons. Such motion must be verified and under oath; and

(5) Motion for postponement and other motions of similar intent, except those filed due to clearly compelling reasons. Such motion must be verified and under oath. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)

With the above proscription, the RTC in the first place should not have issued the December 3, 2003 Order denying the UOB Group’s motion for reconsideration, which WINCORP adopted. The remedy of an aggrieved party like WINCORP is to file a petition for certiorari within sixty (60) days from receipt of the assailed order and not to file a motion for reconsideration, the latter being a prohibited pleading. Here, WINCORP should have filed the petition for certiorari before the CA on or before January 12, 2004.  It was, however, filed only on February 13, 2004. With that, the CA should have dismissed the petition outright for being filed late.  Westmont Investment Corporation vs. Farmix Fertilizer Corporation, et al.,  G.R. No. 165876, October 4, 2010

Intra-Corporate Controversies; pre-trial and judgment before pre-trial. Further, the conduct of a pre-trial is mandatory under the Interim Rules of Procedure for Intra-Corporate Controversies. Rule 4, Section 1 of the Interim Rules provides:

Section 1. Pre-trial conference; mandatory nature. – Within five (5) days in Rule 3 hereof, whichever comes later, the court shall issue and serve an order immediately setting the case for pre-trial conference and directing the after the period for availment of, and compliance with, the modes of discovery prescribed parties to submit their respective pre-trial briefs. The parties shall file with the court and furnish each other copies of their respective pre-trial brief in such manner as to ensure its receipt by the court and the other party at least five (5) days before the date set for pre-trial.

Rule 4, Section 4 further states:

Sec. 4. Judgment before pre-trial. – If, after submissionof the pre-trial briefs, the court determines that, upon consideration of the pleadings, the affidavits and other evidence submitted by the parties, a judgment may be rendered, the court may order the parties to file simultaneously their respective memoranda within a non-extendible period of twenty (20) days from receipt of the order. Thereafter, the court shall render judgment, either full or otherwise, not later than ninety (90) days from the expiration of the period to file the memoranda.

However, the RTC never ordered the submission of the parties’ pre-trial briefs. Neither were they made to submit their memoranda. Earlier in the proceedings, both parties were ordered to submit their memoranda on the issue of whether the RTC should proceed with the hearing of the case on the merits. Both parties agreed that it should.   They believed that the case was not yet ripe for final disposition and that the RTC should proceed to hear the case on the principal prayer for the nullification of the Amended By-laws of the Foundation.  Thus, petitioners said:

Therefore, in so far as the Petitioners [herein respondents] are concerned, there appears to be three remaining matters that needs (sic) to be resolved: the nullification of the by-laws, the proscription from the enforcement of the recently amended by-laws by the respondents and the matter of the attorney’s fees. Petitioners [herein respondents] may have presented evidence on the first two but the third cause of action does not appear to have been ventilated as yet. There is also the matter of the compulsory counterclaim of the Respondents [herein petitioners], which was not yet likewise heard. This would verily take this case out of that classification of being ready for final resolution or disposition of the intra-corporate dispute.

On the other hand, respondents said:

However, the SEC has not ruled yet on the parties’ respective formal offer of Exhibits relative to the injunction issue; and was yet to hear the main case where one of the main reliefs prayed for was the declaration of the nullity of the assailed amended By-laws.

Likewise, the Judgment of the RTC is bereft of any justification for dispensing with the pre-trial and trial. There was no discussion of any agreement by the parties to dispense with the trial and submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed. In fact, because there was no pre-trial, it remains unclear exactly what issues are to be resolved by the trial court.  Manuel D. Recto, et al. vs. Bishop Federico O. Escaler, S.J., et al., G.R. No. 173179, October 20, 2010.

Registration proceeding (application for issuance of Certificate of Ancestral Land Title); does not constitute litis pendentia over reivindicatory case. The application for issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Land Title pending before the NCIP is akin to a registration proceeding.  It also seeks an official recognition of one’s claim to a particular land and is also in rem.  The titling of ancestral lands is for the purpose of “officially establishing” one’s land as an ancestral land.  Just like a registration proceeding, the titling of ancestral lands does not vest ownership upon the applicant but only recognizes ownership that has already vested in the applicant by virtue of his and his predecessor-in-interest’s possession of the property since time immemorial.  As aptly explained in another case:

It bears stressing at this point that ownership should not be confused with a certificate of title.  Registering land under the Torrens system does not create or vest title because registration is not a mode of acquiring ownership.  A certificate of title is merely an evidence of ownership or title over the particular property described therein.  Corollarily, any question involving the issue of ownership must be threshed out in a separate suit x x x The trial court will then conduct a full-blown trial wherein the parties will present their respective evidence on the issue of ownership of the subject properties to enable the court to resolve the said issue. x x x (Emphasis supplied)

Likewise apropos is the following explanation:

The fact that the [respondents] were able to secure [TCTs over the property] did not operate to vest upon them ownership of the property.  The Torrens system does not create or vest title.  It has never been recognized as a mode of acquiring ownership x x x  If the [respondents] wished to assert their ownership, they should have filed a judicial action for recovery of possession and not merely to have the land registered under their respective names. x x x Certificates of title do not establish ownership. (Emphasis supplied)

A registration proceeding is not a conclusive adjudication of ownership.  In fact, if it is later on found in another case (where the issue of ownership is squarely adjudicated) that the registrant is not the owner of the property, the real owner can file a reconveyance case and have the title transferred to his name.

Given that a registration proceeding (such as the certification of ancestral lands) is not a conclusive adjudication of ownership, it will not constitute litis pendentia on a reivindicatory case where the issue is ownership.  or litis pendentia to be a ground for the dismissal of an action, the following requisites must concur: (a) identity of parties, or at least such parties who represent the same interests in both actions; (b) identity of rights asserted and relief prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (c) the identity with respect to the two preceding particulars in the two cases is 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.”  The third element is missing, for any judgment  in the certification case would not constitute res judicata or be conclusive on the ownership issue involved in the reivindicatory case.  Since there is no litis pendentia, there is no reason for the reivindicatory case to be suspended or dismissed in favor of the certification case.

Moreover, since there is no litis pendentia, we cannot agree with petitioners’ contention that respondent committed forum-shopping.  Settled is the rule that “forum shopping exists where the elements of litis pendentia are present or where a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in the other.”  Delfin Lamsis, et al. vs. Margarita Semon Dong-e, G.R. No. 173021, October 20, 2010.

Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages; scope. Petitioner insists that A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC governs this case.  Her stance is unavailing.  The Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages as contained in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC which the Court promulgated on March 15, 2003, is explicit in its scope. Section 1 of the Rule, in fact, reads:

Section 1.  Scope – This Rule shall govern petitions for declaration of absolute nullity of void marriages and annulment of voidable marriages under the Family Code of the Philippines.

The Rules of Court shall apply suppletorily.

The categorical language of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC leaves no room for doubt.  The coverage extends only to those marriages entered into during the effectivity of the Family Code which took effect on August 3, 1988.  The rule sets a demarcation line between marriages covered by the Family Code and those solemnized under the Civil Code.

The Court finds Itself unable to subscribe to petitioner’s interpretation that the phrase “under the Family Code” in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC refers to the word “petitions” rather than to the word “marriages.”  A cardinal rule in statutory construction is that when the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity, there is no room for construction or interpretation.  There is only room for application.  As the statute is clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.  This is what is known as the plain-meaning rule or verba legis.  It is expressed in the maxim, index animi sermo, or “speech is the index of intention.”  Furthermore, there is the maxim verba legis non est recedendum, or “from the words of a statute there should be no departure.”  Cynthia S. Bolos vs. Danilo T. Bolos, G.R. No. 186400, October 20, 2010.

Writ of Amparo. As correctly pointed out by the OSG, the petition for the writs of habeas corpus and amparo was based on the criminal case for Qualified Theft against petitioner So’s daughter, Guisande. To recall, petitioner So claimed that the conditions and circumstances of his daughter’s, accused Guisande’s, confinement at the NCMH was “life threatening”; although Guisande was accused of a non-bailable offense, the NCMH could not adequately treat Guisande’s mental condition. Thus, to balance the conflicting right of an accused to medical treatment and the right of the prosecution to subject to court processes an accused charged with a non-bailable offense, the CA directed the transfer of Guisande from the NCMH to St. Clare’s Medical Center, while noting that because of the peculiarities of this case, there was a deviation from the regular course of procedure, since accused Guisande should have been confined in jail because she was charged with a non-bailable offense.  Notably, nowhere in the transcript of the CA hearing on December 3, 2009, nor in the Order recited in open court by Justice Pizarro, is there an affirmation of petitioner So’s claim that the confinement of accused Guisande at the NCMH was illegal. Neither were the respective acts performed by respondents Judge Tacla and Dr. Vicente in ascertaining the mental condition of accused Guisande to withstand trial declared unlawful. On the contrary, the NCMH, a well-reputed government forensic facility, albeit not held in high regard by petitioner So’s and accused Guisande’s family, had assessed Guisande fit for trial.

The Rules on the Writs of Habeas Corpus and Amparo are clear; the act or omission or the threatened act or omission complained of – confinement and custody for habeas corpus and violations of, or threat to violate, a person’s life, liberty, and security for amparo cases – should be illegal or unlawful.

Rule 102 of the Rules of Court on Habeas Corpus provides:

Sec. 1. To what habeas corpus extends. – Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, the writ of habeas corpus shall extend to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto.

while the Rule on the Writ of Amparo states:

Section 1.  Petition. – The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The writ shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.

Our decisions on the propriety of the issuance of these writs reiterate the foregoing rules. In Lourdes D. Rubrico, Jean Rubrico Apruebo, and Mary Joy Rubrico Carbonel v. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, P/Dir. Gen. Avelino Razon, Maj. Darwin Sy a.k.a Darwin Reyes, Jimmy Santana, Ruben Alfaro, Capt. Angelo Cuaresma, a certain Jonathan, P/Supt. Edgar B. Roquero, Arsenio C. Gomez, and Office of the Ombudsman, we qualified:

The privilege of the writ of amparo is envisioned basically to protect and guarantee the rights to life, liberty, and security of persons, free from fears and threats that vitiate the quality of this life. It is an extraordinary writ conceptualized and adopted in light of and in response to the prevalence of extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances. Accordingly, the remedy ought to be resorted to and granted judiciously, lest the ideal sought by the Amparo Rule be diluted and undermined by the indiscriminate filing of amparo petitions for purposes less than the desire to secure amparo reliefs and protection and/or on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

In the recent Nurhida Juhuri Ampatuan v. Judge Virgilio V. Macaraig, RTC, Manila, Branch 37, Director General Avelino Razon, Jr., Director Geary Barias, PSSupt. Co Yee M. Co, Jr., and Police Chief Inspector Agapito Quimson, we intoned:

The most basic criterion for the issuance of the writ, therefore, is that the individual seeking such relief is illegally deprived of his freedom of movement or place under some form of illegal restraint. If an individual’s liberty is restrainted via some legal process, the writ of habeas corpus is unavailing. Fundamentally, in order to justify the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, the restraint of liberty must be in the nature of an illegal and involuntary deprivation of freedom of action.

In general, the purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to determine whether or not a particular person is legally held. A prime specification of an application for a writ of habeas corpus, in fact, is an actual and effective, and not merely nominal or moral, illegal restraint of liberty. The writ of habeas corpus was devised and exists as a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint, and as the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom. xxx The essential object and purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to inquire into all manner of involuntary restraint as distinguished from voluntary, and to relieve a person therefrom if such restraint is illegal. Any restraint which will preclude freedom of action is sufficient.

In passing upon a petition for habeas corpus, a court or judge must first inquire into whether the petitioner is being restrained of his liberty. If he is not, the writ will be refused. Inquiry into the cause of detention will proceed only where such restraint exists. If the alleged cause is thereafter found to be unlawful, then the writ should be granted and the petitioner discharged. Needless to state, if otherwise, again the writ will be refused.

While habeas corpus is a writ of right, it will not issue as a matter of course or as a mere perfunctory operation on the filing of the petition. Judicial discretion is called for in its issuance and it must be clear to the judge to whom the petition is presented that, prima facie, the petitioner is entitled to the writ. It is only if the court is satisfied that a person is being unlawfully restrained of his liberty will the petition for habeas corpus be granted. If the respondents are not detaining or restraining the applicant of the person in whose behalf the petition is filed, the petition should be dismissed.

In the cases at bar, the question before the CA was correctly limited to which hospital, the NCMH or a medical facility of accused’s own choosing, accused Guisande should be referred for treatment of a supposed mental condition.   In addition, we note that it was procedurally proper for the RTC to ask the NCMH for a separate opinion on accused’s mental fitness to be arraigned and stand trial. Be that as it may, the CA allowed the transfer of accused to St. Clare’s Medical Center under the custody of Dr. Rene Yat, who was required periodically to report on his evaluation, every fifteen (15) days, to the RTC Mandaluyong City, although in the same breath, the CA also ordered the continuation of the arraignment and trial of the accused for Qualified Theft before the same trial court. In other words, Guisande remained in custody of the law to answer for the non-bailable criminal charge against her, and was simply allowed to pursue medical treatment in the hospital and from a doctor of her choice.

Certainly, with the dismissal of the non-bailable case against accused Guisande, she is no longer under peril to be confined in a jail facility, much less at the NCMH. Effectively, accused Guisande’s person, and treatment of any medical and mental malady she may or may not have, can no longer be subjected to the lawful processes of the RTC Mandaluyong City. In short, the cases have now been rendered moot and academic which, in the often cited David v. Macapagal-Arroyo, is defined as “one that ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical use or value.”

Finally, the Resolutions of the CA and Assistant City Prosecutor Escobar-Pilares, unmistakably foreclose the justiciability of the petitions before this Court.  In CA-G.R. SP No. 00039, the CA said:

We are also not swayed by [David So’s] argument that [petitioners] advanced lies to this Court when they stated in their petition that Elena was facing two (2) non-bailable offenses. During the hearing on the petition for habeas corpus/writ of amparo, the counsel for [David So] stated that Elena was facing only one (1) non-bailable offense to which [petitioners] did not anymore object. Besides, the number of non-bailable offenses is not even material in the instant case for habeas corpus/writ of amparo as the only issue to be determined here was whether or not Elena’s confinement at NCMH was lawful.

Finally, the issue in the verified petition, of whether [petitioners] were in contempt of court, is rendered moot and academic considering that this Court had already rendered its open court Order on December 8, 2009, which was favorable to [David So], and it was only later that the latter raised the issue of contempt.

Finding no merit in [David So’s] verified petition for contempt against [Judge Tacla, Dr. Vicente and the NCMH], and there being no other objections made by the parties against Our March 17, 2010 Resolution, the instant petition for habeas corpus/writ of amparo is declared CLOSED and TERMINATED.

SO ORDERED.

David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande vs. Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr. etc., et al. / Hon. Esteban A. Tacla, Jr., etc., et al. vs. David E. So, on behalf of his daughter Maria Elena So Guisande, G.R. Nos. 190108, 190473. October 19, 2010.

 

Evidence

Actual damages; evidence required. As to Rudlin’s counterclaim for reimbursement of its expenses in repairing the defective waterproofing, not a single receipt was presented by Rudlin to prove that such expense was actually incurred by it.   Under the Civil Code, one is entitled to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved.  The award of actual damages must be based on the evidence presented, not on the personal knowledge of the court; and certainly not on flimsy, remote, speculative and nonsubstantial proof.  The testimony of Rodolfo J. Lagera on the total cost allegedly spent by Rudlin in repairing the waterproofing works does not suffice. A court cannot rely on speculations, conjectures or guesswork as to the fact of damage but must depend upon competent proof that they have indeed been suffered by the injured party and on the basis of the best evidence obtainable as to the actual amount thereof. It must point out specific facts that could provide the gauge for measuring whatever compensatory or actual damages were borne.  Financial Building Corporation vs.. Rudlin International Corporation, et al./Rudlin International Corporation, et al. vs. Financial Building Corporation, G.R. No. 164186/G.R. No. 164347. October 4, 2010

Burden of proof in action to annul foreclosure proceedings. It is an elementary rule that the “burden of proof is the duty of a party to present evidence on the facts in issue necessary to establish his claim or defense by the amount of evidence required by law.”  In Cristobal v. Court of Appeals, the Court explicitly ruled that foreclosure proceedings enjoy the presumption of regularity and that the mortgagor who alleges absence of a requisite has the burden of proving such fact, to wit:

Further, as respondent bank asserts, a mortgagor who alleges absence of a requisite has the burden of establishing that fact. Petitioners failed in this regard. Foreclosure proceedings have in their favor the presumption of regularity and the burden of evidence to rebut the same is on the petitioners.  As well said by the respondent appellate court:

“. . . Under the circumstances, there is a basis for presuming that official duty has been regularly performed by the sheriff. Being a disputable presumption, the same is valid unless controverted by evidence. The presumption has not been rebutted by any convincing and substantial evidence by the appellee who has the onus to present evidence that appellant has not complied with the posting requirement of the law. In the absence therefore of any proof to the contrary, the presumption that official duty has been regularly performed stays.” (Emphases supplied.)

In this case, it was respondents who instituted Civil Case No. 01-1564 seeking the annulment of the extrajudicial foreclosure of their mortgaged properties on the ground of non-compliance with the requirements of the law on the posting of the notices of sale.  Thus, the burden falls upon respondents to prove the fact of non-compliance; but respondents miserably failed in this regard.  Respondents did not present any evidence at all to establish that the notices of sale were not posted as required under Section 3 of Act No. 3135, as amended.  Instead, respondents merely focused on how Notary Public Magpantay’s Certificate of Posting was worded, and emphasized on technicalities and semantics.  Respondents insist that the phrase “on the 15th day of November 1999, I have caused the posting of three (3) copies of Notice of Sale” in the Certificate of Posting meant that Notary Public Magpantay posted the notices for only one day, i.e., on November 15, 1999.  This is a rather specious interpretation of the aforequoted phrase.  It is more logical and reasonable to understand the same phrase as to mean that the notices were posted beginning November 15, 1999 until the issuance of the certificate on December 9, 1999.  There is also no basis to require the notary public’s certificate to exactly state that the notices of sale were posted at “public places.”  Notary Public Magpantay’s use of the words “conspicuous places” in his certificate already satisfactorily complies with the legal requirement for posting.  The adjective “public” may refer to that which is “exposed to general view,” and “conspicuous” is a synonym thereof.

Moreover, it bears to stress that the Certificate of Posting is actually evidence presented by the petitioner to establish that copies of the Notice of Sale were indeed posted as required by Act No. 3135, as amended.  Without presenting their own evidence of the alleged lack of posting, respondents contented themselves with challenging the contents of said certificate.  As plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 01-1564, respondents must rely on the strength of their own evidence and not upon the weakness of the petitioner’s.  In addition, despite any defect in the posting of the Notice of Sale, the Court reiterates its ruling in previous jurisprudence that the publication of the same notice in a newspaper of general circulation is already sufficient compliance with the requirement of the law.  Century Savings Bank vs. Spouses Danilo T. Samonte and Rosalinda M. Samonte, G.R. No. 176212, October 20, 2010.

Burden of proof in civil case. Nevertheless, we further declare that the Court of Appeals erred in already awarding moral and exemplary damages in respondent’s favor when the parties have not yet had the chance to present any evidence before the RTC-Branch 227.  In civil cases, he who alleges a fact has the burden of proving it by a preponderance of evidence.  It is incumbent upon the party claiming affirmative relief from the court to convincingly prove its claim.  Bare allegations, unsubstantiated by evidence are not equivalent to proof under our Rules.  In short, mere allegations are not evidence.

At this point, the finding of the Court of Appeals of bad faith and malice on the part of petitioners has no factual basis.  Good faith is presumed and he who alleges bad faith has the duty to prove the same.  Good faith refers to the state of the mind which is manifested by the acts of the individual concerned.  It consists of the intention to abstain from taking an unconscionable and unscrupulous advantage of another.  Bad faith, on the other hand, does not simply connote bad judgment to simple negligence.  It imports a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong, a breach of known duty due to some motive or interest or ill will that partakes of the nature of fraud.  Malice connotes ill will or spite and speaks not in response to duty.  It implies an intention to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm.

We cannot subscribe to respondent’s argument that there is no more need for the presentation of evidence by the parties since petitioners, in moving for the dismissal of respondent’s complaint for damages, hypothetically admitted respondent’s allegations.  The hypothetical admission of respondent’s allegations in the complaint only goes so far as determining whether said complaint should be dismissed on the ground of failure to state a cause of action.  A finding that the complaint sufficiently states a cause of action does not necessarily mean that the complaint is meritorious; it shall only result in the reinstatement of the complaint and the hearing of the case for presentation of evidence by the parties.  Ermelinda Manaloto, et al. vs. Ismael Veloso III, G.R. No. 171365, October 6, 2010.

Foreign law; burden of proof; processual presumption. As to petitioners’ contentions that Philippine labor laws on probationary employment are not applicable since it was expressly provided in respondent’s employment contract, which she voluntarily entered into, that the terms of her engagement shall be governed by prevailing Kuwaiti Civil Service Laws and Regulations as in fact POEA Rules accord respect to such rules, customs and practices of the host country, the same was not substantiated.  Indeed, a contract freely entered into is considered the law between the parties who can establish stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, including the laws which they wish to govern their respective obligations, as long as they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy.  It is hornbook principle, however, that the party invoking the application of a foreign law has the burden of proving the law, under the doctrine of processual presumption which, in this case, petitioners failed to discharge.  The Court’s ruling in EDI-Staffbuilders Int’l., v. NLRC illuminates:

In the present case, the employment contract signed by Gran specifically states that Saudi Labor Laws will govern matters not provided for in the contract (e.g. specific causes for termination, termination procedures, etc.). Being the law intended by the parties (lex loci intentiones) to apply to the contract, Saudi Labor Laws should govern all matters relating to the termination of the employment of Gran.

In international law, the party who wants to have a foreign law applied to a dispute or case has the burden of proving the foreign law. The foreign law is treated as a question of fact to be properly pleaded and proved as the judge or labor arbiter cannot take judicial notice of a foreign law. He is presumed to know only domestic or forum law.

Unfortunately for petitioner, it did not prove the pertinent Saudi laws on the matter; thus, the International Law doctrine of presumed-identity approach or processual presumption comes into play. Where a foreign law is not pleaded or, even if pleaded, is not proved, the presumption is that foreign law is the same as ours. Thus, we apply Philippine labor laws in determining the issues presented before us. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

ATCI Overseas Corporation, et al. vs. Ma. Josefa Echin, G.R. No. 178551. October 11, 2010

Foreign law; no judicial notice of foreign law.  The Philippines does not take judicial notice of foreign laws, hence, they must not only be alleged; they must be proven.  To prove a foreign law, the party invoking it must present a copy thereof and comply with Sections 24 and 25 of Rule 132 of the Revised Rules of Court which reads:

SEC. 24. Proof of official record. — The record of public documents referred to in paragraph (a) of Section 19, 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 the 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. (emphasis supplied)

SEC. 25.  What attestation of copy must state. Whenever a copy of a document or record is attested for the purpose of the evidence, the attestation must state, in substance, that the copy is a correct copy of the original, or a specific part thereof, as the case may be.  The attestation must be under the official seal of the attesting officer, if there be any, or if he be the clerk of a court having a seal, under the seal of such court.

To prove the Kuwaiti law, petitioners submitted the following: MOA between respondent and the Ministry, as represented by ATCI, which provides that the employee is subject to a probationary period of one (1) year and that the host country’s Civil Service Laws and Regulations apply; a translated copy (Arabic to English)  of the termination letter to respondent stating that she did not pass the probation terms, without specifying the grounds therefor, and a translated copy of the certificate of termination, both of which documents were certified by Mr. Mustapha Alawi, Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Consular Affairs Inslamic Certification and Translation Unit; and respondent’s letter of reconsideration to the Ministry, wherein she noted that in her first eight (8) months of employment, she was given a rating of “Excellent” albeit it changed due to changes in her shift of work schedule.

These documents, whether taken singly or as a whole, do not sufficiently prove that respondent was validly terminated as a probationary employee under Kuwaiti civil service laws.  Instead of submitting a copy of the pertinent Kuwaiti labor laws duly authenticated and translated by Embassy officials thereat, as required under the Rules, what petitioners submitted were mere certifications attesting only to the correctness of the translations of the MOA and the termination letter which does not prove at all that Kuwaiti civil service laws differ from Philippine laws and that under such Kuwaiti laws, respondent was validly terminated.  Thus the subject certifications read:

x x x x

This is to certify that the herein attached translation/s from Arabic to English/Tagalog and or vice versa was/were presented to this Office for review and certification and the same was/were found to be in order.  This Office, however, assumes no responsibility as to the contents of the document/s.

This certification is being issued upon request of the interested party for whatever legal purpose it may serve. (emphasis supplied)

ATCI Overseas Corporation, et al. vs. Ma. Josefa Echin, G.R. No. 178551. October 11, 2010

Formal Offer of evidence; not required in proceedings before Bureau of Legal Affairs of Intellectual Property Office. Preliminarily, it must be noted that the BLA ruled that Shen Dar failed to adduce evidence in support of its allegations as required under Office Order No. 79, Series of 2005, Amendments to the Regulations on Inter Partes Proceedings, having failed to formally offer its evidence during the proceedings before it. The BLA ruled:

At the outset, we note petitioner’s failure to adduce any evidence in support of its allegations in the Petition for Cancellation. Petitioner did not file nor submit its marked evidence as required in this Bureau’s Order No. 2006-157 dated 25 January 2006 in compliance with Office Order No. 79, Series of 2005, Amendments to the Regulations on Inter Partes Proceedings.  x x x

In reversing such finding, the CA cited Sec. 2.4 of BLA Memorandum Circular No. 03, Series of 2005, which states:

Section 2.4.  In all cases, failure to file the documentary evidences in accordance with Sections 7 and 8 of the rules on summary proceedings shall be construed as a waiver on the part of the parties. In such a case, the original petition, opposition, answer and the supporting documents therein shall constitute the entire evidence for the parties subject to applicable rules.

The CA concluded that Shen Dar needed not formally offer its evidence but merely needed to attach its evidence to its position paper with the proper markings, which it did in this case.

The IP Code provides under its Sec. 10.3 that the Director General of the IPO shall establish the procedure for the application for the registration of a trademark, as well as the opposition to it:

Section 10.  The Bureau of Legal Affairs.  The Bureau of Legal Affairs shall have the following functions:

x x x x

10.3. The Director General may by Regulations establish the procedure to govern the implementation of this Section.

Thus, the Director General issued Office Order No. 79, Series of 2005 amending the regulations on Inter Partes Proceedings, Sec. 12.1 of which provides:

Section 12. Evidence for the Parties

12.1. The verified petition or opposition, reply if any, duly marked affidavits of the witnesses, and the documents submitted, shall constitute the entire evidence for the petitioner or opposer. The verified answer, rejoinder if any, and the duly marked affidavits and documents submitted shall constitute the evidence for the respondent. Affidavits, documents and other evidence not submitted and duly marked in accordance with the preceding sections shall not be admitted as evidence.

The preceding sections referred to in the above provision refer to Secs. 7.1, 8.1 and 9 which, in turn, provide:

Section 7. Filing of Petition or Opposition

7.1. The petition or opposition, together with the affidavits of witnesses and originals of the documents and other requirements, shall be filed with the Bureau, provided, that in case of public documents, certified copies shall be allowed in lieu of the originals. The Bureau shall check if the petition or opposition is in due form as provided in the Regulations particularly Rule 3, Section 3; Rule 4, Section 2; Rule 5, Section 3; Rule 6, Section 9; Rule 7, Sections 3 and 5; Rule 8, Sections 3 and 4. For petition for cancellation of layout design (topography) of integrated circuits, Rule 3, Section 3 applies as to the form and requirements. The affidavits, documents and other evidence shall be marked consecutively as “Exhibits” beginning with the letter “A”.

Section 8. Answer

8.1. Within three (3) working days from receipt of the petition or opposition, the Bureau shall issue an order for the respondent to file an answer together with the affidavits of witnesses and originals of documents, and at the same time shall notify all parties required to be notified in the IP Code and these Regulations, provided, that in case of public documents, certified true copies may be submitted in lieu of the originals. The affidavits and documents shall be marked consecutively as “Exhibits” beginning with the number “1”.

Section 9. Petition or Opposition and Answer must be verified¾ Subject to Rules 7 and 8 of these regulations, the petition or opposition and the answer must be verified. Otherwise, the same shall not be considered as having been filed.

In other words, as long as the petition is verified and the pieces of evidence consisting of the affidavits of the witnesses and the original of other documentary evidence are attached to the petition and properly marked in accordance with Secs. 7.1 and 8.1 abovementioned, these shall be considered as the evidence of the petitioner. There is no requirement under the abovementioned rules that the evidence of the parties must be formally offered to the BLA.  In any case, as a quasi-judicial agency and as stated in Rule 2, Sec. 5 of the Regulations on Inter Partes Proceedings, the BLA is not bound by technical rules of procedure. The evidence attached to the petition may, therefore, be properly considered in the resolution of the case.  E.Y. Industrial Sales, Inc. and Engracio Yap vs. Shen Dar Electricity Machinery Co., Ltd., G.R. No. 184850, October 20, 2010.

Judicial Notice. BAYAN, GABRIELA, KMP, MCCCL, COURAGE, KADAMAY, SCW, LFS, Anakbayan, PAMALAKAYA, ACT, Migrante, HEAD and Agham, petitioner-organizations in G.R. No. 178581, would like the Court to take judicial notice of respondents’ alleged action of tagging them as militant organizations fronting for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the National People’s Army (NPA).  The tagging, according to petitioners, is tantamount to the effects of proscription without following the procedure under the law. The petition of BAYAN-ST, et al. in G.R. No. 179461 pleads the same allegations.  The Court cannot take judicial notice of the alleged “tagging” of petitioners.

Generally speaking, matters of judicial notice have three material requisites: (1) the matter must be one of common and general knowledge; (2) it must be well and authoritatively settled and not doubtful or uncertain; and (3) it must be known to be within the limits of the jurisdiction of the court.  The principal guide in determining what facts may be assumed to be judicially known is that of notoriety. Hence, it can be said that judicial notice is limited to facts evidenced by public records and facts of general notoriety. Moreover, a judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to a reasonable dispute in that it is either: (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court; or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resorting to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questionable.

Things of “common knowledge,” of which courts take judicial matters coming to the knowledge of men generally in the course of the ordinary experiences of life, or they may be matters which are generally accepted by mankind as true and are capable of ready and unquestioned demonstration. Thus, facts which are universally known, and which may be found in encyclopedias, dictionaries or other publications, are judicially noticed, provided, they are of such universal notoriety and so generally understood that they may be regarded as forming part of the common knowledge of every person.  As the common knowledge of man ranges far and wide, a wide variety of particular facts have been judicially noticed as being matters of common knowledge.  But a court cannot take judicial notice of any fact which, in part, is dependent on the existence or non-existence of a fact of which the court has no constructive knowledge.  (emphasis and underscoring supplied.)

No ground was properly established by petitioners for the taking of judicial notice.  Petitioners’ apprehension is insufficient to substantiate their plea. That no specific charge or proscription under RA 9372 has been filed against them, three years after its effectivity, belies any claim of imminence of their perceived threat emanating from the so-called tagging.  Southern Hemisphere Engagement Network, Inc. etc., et al. vs. Anti-Terrorism council, et al./Kilusang Mayo Uno etc., et al. Vs. Hon. Eduardo Ermita, et al./Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), et al.  vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, etc., et al./Karapatan, et al. vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, etc., et al./The Integrated Bar of the Philippines etc. et al. vs. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, et al./Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Tagalog, et al. vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, etc., et al.,  G.R. Nos. 178552, 178554, 178581, 178890, 179157, 179461.October 5, 2010

Parol Evidence Rule; evidence of written agreement. On the issue of the correct total contract price, we hold that Rudlin failed to substantiate its claim that the contract price stated in the Construction Agreement (P6,933,268.00) was not the true contract price because it had an understanding with FBC’s Jaime B. Lo that they would decrease said amount to a mutually acceptable amount.  Under the general rule in Section 9 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, when the terms of an agreement were reduced in writing, as in this case, it is deemed to contain all the terms agreed upon and no evidence of such terms can be admitted other than the contents thereof.  Rudlin argues that under Section 9, Rule 130, a party may present evidence to modify, explain or add to the terms of the written agreement if it is put in issue in the pleading, “[t]he failure of the written agreement to express the true intent and the agreement of the parties thereto.”  Assuming as true Rudlin’s claim that Exhibit “7” failed to accurately reflect an intent of the parties to fix the total contract price at P6,006,965.00, Rudlin failed to avail of its right to seek the reformation of the instrument to the end that such true intention may be expressed.

Evidence of a prior or contemporaneous verbal agreement is generally not admissible to vary, contradict or defeat the operation of a valid contract.  Section 9 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court 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;

(c) The validity of the written agreement; or

(d) The existence of other terms agreed to by the parties or their successors-in-interest after the execution of the written agreement.

The term “agreement” includes wills.

Rudlin cannot invoke the exception under (a) or (b) of the above provision.  Such exception obtains only where “the written contract is so ambiguous or obscure in terms that the contractual intention of the parties cannot be understood from a mere reading of the instrument.  In such a case, extrinsic evidence of the subject matter of the contract, of the relations of the parties to each other, and of the facts and circumstances surrounding them when they entered into the contract may be received to enable the court to make a proper interpretation of the instrument.”  Under the fourth exception, however, Rudlin’s evidence is admissible to show the existence of such other terms agreed to by the parties after the execution of the contract.  But apart from the Bar Chart and Cash Flow Chart prepared by FBC, and the testimony of Rodolfo J. Lagera, no competent evidence was adduced by Rudlin to prove that the amount of P6,006,965.00 stated therein as contract price was the actual decreased amount that FBC and Rudlin found mutually acceptable.  As to the affidavits executed by Architect Quezon and his associate Roberto R. Antonio, the same do not serve as competent proof of the purported actual contract price as they did not testify thereon.  Significantly, the June 5, 1986 Letter-Agreement did not at all mention the total contract price.  Likewise, there is nothing in the various letters sent by Rudlin to FBC while construction was in progress and even subsequent to the execution of the said Letter-Agreement indicating that Rudlin corrected the contract price of P6,933,268.00 which FBC had repeatedly mentioned in its letters and documents.  Financial Building Corporation vs.. Rudlin International Corporation, et al./Rudlin International Corporation, et al. vs. Financial Building Corporation, G.R. No. 164186/G.R. No. 164347. October 4, 2010

Positive testimony stronger than negative testimony. Contrary to the dissent’s view, the sworn statements of Maligaya Feedmill’s customers and former employees that Mitra did not and could not have resided at the mezzanine portion of the Feedmill cannot be given full evidentiary weight, since these statements are in nature of negative testimonies that do not deserve weight and credence in the face of contrary positive evidence, particularly, Carme E. Caspe’s testimony, cited above, that Mitra did indeed transfer residence in a process that was accomplished, not in a single move, but through an incremental process that started in early 2008.  It is well-settled in the rules of evidence that positive testimony is stronger than negative testimony.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Presumptions; conclusive presumption; tenant estopped from denying title of landlord. Finally, the Court agrees with the RTC that respondents are already estopped from challenging the validity of the foreclosure sale, after entering into a Contract of Lease with petitioner over one of the foreclosed properties.  The title of the landlord is a conclusive presumption as against the tenant or lessee.  According to Section 2(b), Rule 131 of the Rules of Court, “[t]he tenant is not permitted to deny the title of his landlord at the time of the commencement of the relation of landlord and tenant between them.”  The juridical relationship between petitioner as lessor and respondents as lessees carries with it a recognition of the lessor’s title.  As lessees, then respondents are estopped to deny their landlord’s title, or to assert a better title not only in themselves, but also in some third person while they remain in possession of the leased premises and until they surrender possession to the landlord.  This estoppel applies even though the lessor had no title at the time the relation of lessor and lessee was created, and may be asserted not only by the original lessor, but also by those who succeed to his title.          The Court quotes with approval the following findings of the RTC:

Further, this Court upholds the validity of the extrajudicial foreclosure proceeding under the equitable principle of estoppel.  [Herein respondents’] admitted execution of the Contract of Lease alone establishes that they do not have any cause of action or are estopped from impugning the validity of the subject extrajudicial foreclosure proceedings.  In the Contract of Lease, [respondents’] clearly acknowledge that the subject extrajudicial foreclosure sale was conducted in accordance with Act No. 3135, as amended; that they failed to redeem the foreclosed properties within the redemption period; and that [petitioner] has valid and legal right and title as absolute owner of the foreclosed properties.  [Respondents] failed to mention or question the validity of the Contract of Lease in their Complaint.  There being no evidence presented that [respondents] executed the Contract of Lease by mistake or through violence, intimidation, undue influence, or fraud, [respondents] are bound by the stipulations therein and to the consequences thereof.  Century Savings Bank vs. Spouses Danilo T. Samonte and Rosalinda M. Samonte, G.R. No. 176212, October 20, 2010.

Presumptions; disputable presumption; suppression of evidence. Incidentally, the dissent’s invocation of the adverse presumption of suppression of evidence is erroneous, since it does not arise when the evidence is at the disposal of both parties.  In the present case, the required proofs of commercial transactions the dissent cites are public documents which are at the disposal of both parties; they are not solely under the custody of Mitra and can be easily obtained from the municipal offices of Aborlan had the private respondents been minded to do so.  The bottom line is that no such evidence was ever presented in this case, and none can and should be considered at this point.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, Antonio V. Gonzales and Orlando R. Balbon, Jr., G.R. No. 191938, October 19, 2010.

Question of law distinguished from question of fact. And in Leoncio v. De Vera, this Court has differentiated a question of law from a question of fact. A question of law arises when there is doubt as to what the law is on a certain state of facts, while there is a question of fact when the doubt arises as to the truth or falsity of the alleged facts. For a question to be one of law, the same must not involve an examination of the probative value of the evidence presented by the litigants or any of them. The resolution of the issue must rest solely on what the law provides on the given set of circumstances. Once it is clear that the issue invites a review of the evidence presented, the question posed is one of fact. Thus, the test of whether a question is one of law or of fact is not the appellation given to such question by the party raising the same; rather, it is whether the appellate court can determine the issue raised without reviewing or evaluating the evidence, in which case, it is a question of law; otherwise it is a question of fact.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Angelo B. Malabanan, et al., G.R. No. 169067, October 6, 2010

Question of law distinguished from question of fact. In Microsoft Corporation v. Maxicorp, Inc., the Court elucidated on the distinction between questions of law and fact:

The distinction between questions of law and questions of fact is settled.  A question of law exists when the doubt or difference centers on what the law is on a certain state of facts.  A question of fact exists if the doubt centers on the truth or falsity of the alleged facts.  Though this delineation seems simple, determining the true nature and extent of the distinction is sometimes problematic. For example, it is incorrect to presume that all cases where the facts are not in dispute automatically involve purely questions of law.

There is a question of law if the issue raised is capable of being resolved without need of reviewing the probative value of the evidence. The resolution of the issue must rest solely on what the law provides on the given set of circumstances.  Once it is clear that the issue invites a review of the evidence presented, the question posed is one of fact.  If the query requires a re-evaluation of the credibility of witnesses, or the existence or relevance of surrounding circumstances and their relation to each other, the issue in that query is factual.  Our ruling in Paterno v. Paterno [G.R. No. 63680, 23 March 1990, 183 SCRA 630] is illustrative on this point:

Such questions as whether certain items of evidence should be accorded probative value or weight, or rejected as feeble or spurious, or whether or not the proofs on one side or the other are clear and convincing and adequate to establish a proposition in issue, are without doubt questions of fact. Whether or not the body of proofs presented by a party, weighed and analyzed in relation to contrary evidence submitted by adverse party, may be said to be strong, clear and convincing; whether or not certain documents presented by one side should be accorded full faith and credit in the face of protests as to their spurious character by the other side; whether or not inconsistencies in the body of proofs of a party are of such gravity as to justify refusing to give said proofs weight – all these are issues of fact.

It is true that Maxicorp did not contest the facts alleged by petitioners.  But this situation does not automatically transform all issues raised in the petition into questions of law. The issues must meet the tests outlined in Paterno.

The main issue in the case at bar is whether the extrajudicial foreclosure sale of respondents’ mortgaged properties was valid.  The resolution of said issue, however, is dependent on the answer to the question of whether the legal requirements on the notice of sale were complied with.  Necessarily, the Court must review the evidence on record, most especially, Notary Public Magpantay’s Certificate of Posting, to determine the weight and probative value to accord the same.  Non-compliance with the requirements of notice and publication in an extrajudicial foreclosure sale is a factual issue.  The resolution thereof by the lower courts is binding and conclusive upon this Court.  However, this rule is subject to exceptions, as when the findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are in conflict. Also, it must be noted that non-compliance with the statutory requisites could constitute a jurisdictional defect that would invalidate the sale.  Century Savings Bank vs. Spouses Danilo T. Samonte and Rosalinda M. Samonte, G.R. No. 176212, October 20, 2010.

 


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