This is a petition for review on certiorari
of the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53440 which upheld the orders, dated February 5, 1999 and May 6, 1999, of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 13. 2
On September 26, 1994, Marilyn A. Peralta, Rosie A. Lavalan, Grace A. Reyes, Alberto B. Alonday, Mercy B. Alonday, Rochelieu B. Alonday, Azucena B. Alonday, Benedicto B. Alonday, and Janeta A. Baluran filed a complaint for recovery of possession and ownership of real property with the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 13, against the defendants Republic of the Philippines, the Regional Executive Director of Region XI of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Conservation Officer in said region. The plaintiffs alleged therein, inter alia, that they are the heirs of Benedicto B. Alonday who applied for and was granted Homestead Patent No. V-11244 by the then Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DENR) over Lot 3561 with an area of 237,898 square meters; the said lot was a portion of Lot 2988 of the Guiang Cadastre located in Guiang, Davao City and that on the basis of said patent, Benedicto Alonday was issued Original Certificate of Title No. P-275 over the said property by the Register of Deeds; they purchased the said property from their father Benedicto and were issued on April 25, 1988 Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-134231 in their names; the property was allegedly alienable and disposable property within Project 1-B, certified on January 13, 1931 as per LC Map No. 1412 approved by the Director of Bureau of Forestry, as confirmed by the letter of the petitioner Regional Director, dated February 15, 1994; they had been in possession of the said property as owner thereof since November 1965 and that some time in 1969, officers of the Bureau of Forest Development (BFD) sought his permission to use a portion of said property with an area of five hectares; the BFD caused the construction of a big concrete building on said portion of the property; on June 28, 1971, Benedicto’s lawyer wrote a letter to the BFD demanding that it vacate the said portion of his property on which the building was constructed but said letter was ignored; on February 24, 1979, Forest Conservation Officer Marion Abundio, Sr. asked permission from Benedicto to allow the BFD to install on a portion of the subject property consisting of twenty-five square meters a small generator to provide electricity to the existing building and compound of the Philippine Eagles Acclimatization and Breeding Center; Benedicto did not give his assent to these requests of the aforenamed government officials despite which they still caused the construction of the building and installation of the generator unit; the plaintiffs demanded that the defendants vacate the property on July 14, 1994 but the latter refused. The plaintiffs prayed that after due proceedings judgment be rendered in their favor and that the defendants be ordered to vacate the subject property and pay the plaintiffs damages and litigation expenses.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The plaintiffs appended as annexes to their petition copies of the aforesaid title and letters of the BFD officials. In their answer to the complaint, the defendants, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), interposed the special and affirmative defenses that: (a) the complaint did not state a cause of action against them; (b) the building constructed by the defendants was within the perimeter of the Mt. Apo National Park, a forest reserve under Proclamation No. 59, as amended, of the President of the Philippines, and not on the plaintiffs’ property; (c) the installation of a generator unit did not push through; (d) Project 1-B, under which the subject property was declassified as alienable and disposable property per Land Classification Map No. 1412, should not prevail over Proclamation No. 59, as amended; (e) the suit was against the State which cannot be sued without its consent; (f) the plaintiffs failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing their complaint. 3 The defendants prayed that the complaint be dismissed.
The parties filed their respective pre-trial briefs. After the requisite pre-trial conference, the RTC issued an Order, dated August 29, 1995, constituting a panel of commissioners composed of Engineer Roderick R. Calapardo, as Team Leader, and Gregorio Cenabre and Engineer Rogelio Zantua, as members, to conduct a relocation survey and determine if the respondents’ property is part of the Mt. Apo National Park. After the survey, the panel submitted its report to the trial court, dated November 7, 1995, stating that: "the land in case is 92,216 square meters within the certified Alienable and Disposable (A & D) Lands while the remaining portion of 145,682 square meters is within the Mt. Apo National Park Reservation." 4
In their comment on the report, the plaintiffs claimed that the survey team altered the boundary line of their property in the course of the survey and that the team did not take into account Project 1-B per Land Classification Map No. 1412 approved by the Director of the Bureau of Forestry. The defendants, on the other hand, insisted that the survey team did not alter the boundary line of the property and that it took into account Project 1-B and Land Classification Map No. 1412 in conducting the survey and preparing its report. On motion of the plaintiffs and with the conformity of the defendants, through Assistant Solicitor General Aurora P. Cortez, the RTC issued an order on March 7, 1997 declaring that there were no factual issues involved in the case and that it would decide the case on the basis of the pleadings and memoranda of the parties as well as the commissioners’ report.
On May 6, 1997, the RTC rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants finding and declaring that the property occupied by the defendants was part of the plaintiffs’ property. The RTC ordered the defendants to vacate the property, restore possession thereof to the plaintiffs and remove all the improvements thereon made by them. The decretal portion of the decision reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
In view of all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered sustaining the validity and legality of the plaintiff’s right of ownership and possession over that parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-134231 of the Registry of Davao City. Defendants are hereby ordered to vacate the portion of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-134231 of the Registry of Deeds of Davao City alluded to by the plaintiffs and to restore peaceful possession of the same to them. Defendants are further ordered to remove all the improvements they have introduced thereon. 5
The RTC declared that the report of the panel did not take into account Property 1-B for LC Map 1412; hence, the said report had no probative weight. According to the RTC, the torrens title of the property prevails over the relocation survey of the panel of commissioners and that the Director of Forestry declassified the respondents’ property pursuant to Section 1827 of the 1987 Revised Administrative Code.
On May 30, 1997, five days before the expiration of the period to file an appeal, the defendants filed, through registered mail, a motion for the reconsideration of the RTC decision. On June 11, 1997, the RTC issued ex parte an order expunging the said motion for reconsideration on the ground that it was a mere scrap of paper for failure of the defendants to incorporate any notice of hearing as required by Sections 4 and 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court. Unaware of the June 11, 1997 Order of the RTC, the defendants filed on July 14, 1997 a Manifestation with Notice of Hearing on Motion for Reconsideration dated July 7, 1997 appending thereto a notice of hearing of their May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration.chanrobles.com.ph : red
In the meantime, on July 18, 1997, the defendants received a copy of the June 11, 1997 Order of the trial court expunging their motion for reconsideration. On July 22, 1997, the defendants filed their notice of appeal from the decision of the court. The plaintiffs, for their part, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal of the defendants on the ground that their May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration was a mere scrap of paper; hence, the motion did not toll the running of the reglementary period for appeal. Thus, the defendants allegedly failed to perfect their appeal from the decision of the court within the reglementary period. On August 11, 1997, the RTC received the defendants’ notice of appeal.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge of Branch 13 retired, and for a time, the said RTC branch remained vacant. On January 28, 1999, the RTC, through the newly-appointed judge, issued an order giving due course to the defendants’ appeal declaring that they still had a period of five days from July 18, 1997 when they received a copy of the order expunging their notice of appeal or until July 23, 1997 within which to perfect their appeal from the June 11, 1997 Order. Since the defendants filed their notice of appeal on July 22, 1997, they had perfected their appeal within the reglementary period. The RTC further declared that although the defendants’ May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration was defective, the Rules of Court should be liberally construed. The RTC forthwith directed the branch clerk of court to forward the records of the case to the Court of Appeals.
On February 5, 1999, however, the RTC issued an ex parte order dismissing the defendants’ appeal on its finding that in light of jurisprudence brought to its attention, they failed to perfect their appeal within the reglementary period. When the defendants received the February 5, 1999 Order of the RTC, they filed a motion for reconsideration thereof, set for hearing on February 19, 1999. On February 8, 1999, the RTC issued an order declaring that the hearing set on February 19, 1999 was mooted by its Order dated February 5, 1999 which dismissed the defendants’ appeal. The plaintiffs filed on February 10, 1999 a motion for execution, claiming that the RTC decision had become final and executory. On February 18, 1999, the RTC issued an order granting the plaintiffs’ motion and ordered the issuance of a writ of execution. The defendants filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated February 26, 1999 of the February 5, 1999 Order of the RTC dismissing their appeal and their opposition to the issuance of a writ of execution. The defendants were unaware that in the interim, the RTC had already granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a writ of execution on February 18, 1999. The plaintiffs opposed the defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration dated February 26, 1999.
On May 6, 1999, the RTC issued an order denying the defendants’ motion for reconsideration and at the same time denying the plaintiffs’ motion for execution on the ground that public policy prohibited the issuance of a writ of execution against the government. The RTC recalled the writ of execution it earlier issued.
Thereafter, the defendants, now the petitioners, filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari
under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Court, as amended, for the nullification of the February 5, 1999 and May 6, 1999 Orders of the RTC alleging that the:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
RESPONDENT COURT COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN ISSUING ITS ORDER DATED FEBRUARY 5, 1999 AND ORDER DATED MAY 6, 1999.
RESPONDENT COURT COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN SUSTAINING THE VALIDITY AND LEGALITY OF OWNERSHIP OF PRIVATE RESPONDENTS OVER A PARCEL OF LAND COVERED BY TRANSFER CERTIFICATE OF TITLE NO. 134231. 6
On April 27, 2001, the CA rendered its decision denying due course and dismissing the petition for certiorari
. The appellate court held that petitioners’ May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration of the RTC decision did not comply with Section 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court, as amended; hence, a mere scrap of paper which did not toll the running of the reglementary period for appeal. Thus, the RTC decision had already become final and executory. According to the appellate court, the RTC did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the petitioners’ appeal therein. As such, they were not entitled to a writ of certiorari
. The CA further held that the petitioners, through the negligence of the OSG, failed to perfect their appeal. The CA opined that to nullify the title of respondents over the subject property, the petitioners should have instituted a petition for reversion, and not a petition for certiorari
under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Court, as amended.
The petitioners filed the instant petition for review on certiorari
seeking to reverse and set aside the decision of the CA. The petitioners allege that the appellate court committed reversible error in finding and declaring that they failed to perfect their appeal from the decision of the trial court within the reglementary period. The CA likewise allegedly erred when it held that the RTC did not commit grave abuse of its discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction when it dismissed the petitioners’ appeal via its February 5, 1999 Order. The petitioners contend that by dismissing their petition, the CA thereby sustained the validity of the respondents’ title despite strong evidence that the said property is part of the public forest and, therefore, inalienable. The petitioners further argue that even if their notice of appeal was belatedly filed, the rule on perfection of appeals should be suspended and that their appeal should be given due course on grounds of equity and substantial justice. They submit that if their appeal is not reinstated, the Republic of the Philippines will be deprived of a part of the Mt. Apo National Park consisting of no less than 145,682 square meters. The petitioners cite the ruling of this Court in Republic v. Court of Appeals. 7
The petition is meritorious.
The Court agrees with the CA that the OSG was negligent when it filed on May 30, 1997 the defective motion for reconsideration. Section 2, Rule 37 of the Rules of Court provides that a motion for reconsideration or a motion for a new trial shall be made in writing stating the ground or grounds therefor, a written notice of which shall be served by the movant on the adverse party. Such written notice is that prescribed in Sections 4 and 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court. Under Section 4, paragraph 2 of said rule, a notice of hearing on a motion shall be served by the movant to all the parties concerned at least three days before the date of hearing. Section 5 of the same rule requires that the notice of hearing shall be directed to the parties concerned and shall state the time and place of the hearing of the motion. The requirements, far from being merely technical and procedural as claimed by the petitioners, are vital elements of procedural due process. 8
Since the Rules of Court do not fix any period within which the said party may file his reply or opposition, the trial court would have no way of determining whether the adverse party agrees or objects to the motion and, if he objects, to hear him on his objection. Hence, the need for the movant to set the time and place of hearing of its motion. 9 The requirements entombed in Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court are mandatory and non-compliance therewith is fatal and renders the motion pro forma; a worthless piece of paper which the clerk of court has no right to receive and which the court has no authority to act upon. 10 In cases of motions for a new trial or for the reconsideration of a judgment, the running of the period for appeal is not tolled by the mere filing or pendency of said motion. 11
In this case, the petitioners, through the OSG, received on May 20, 1997 the decision of the RTC; hence, they had until June 4, 1997 within which to file their motion for reconsideration or for a new trial or to perfect their appeal from said adverse decision. Although the petitioners filed the motion for reconsideration dated May 30, 1997 within the reglementary period, said motion failed to comply with Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15. The records show that there is no proof that the respondents were actually served with a copy of said motion, as required by Section 10, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court. The OSG did not bother to file an amended motion for reconsideration containing the requirements of Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court.
The OSG offered no valid justification for its failure to comply with Sections 4 and 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court except the self-serving claim of Solicitor Evaristo M. Padilla that his omission was sheer inadvertence, caused by heavy pressure of work in preparing numerous pleadings and in the almost daily attendance in court for naturalization cases and those for nullity of marriage, among others. Other than the barefaced allegations of Solicitor Padilla, he offered no specific details as to what pleadings he prepared and the hearings he attended which prevented him from complying with Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court. Moreover, if Solicitor Padilla was able to prepare within the reglementary period the May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration, he offered no valid justification for his failure to incorporate in said motion or append thereto a simple one-paragraph notice of hearing which could have been accomplished in a few minutes. What is so nettlesome is that the May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration of petitioners was signed not only by Solicitor Padilla but also by Assistant Solicitor General Aurora P. Cortes. Even if Solicitor Padilla, through his negligence, failed to incorporate in said motion for reconsideration the requisite notice of hearing, the Assistant Solicitor General should have noticed the omission before she affixed her signature thereon and sought the immediate rectification thereof by Solicitor Padilla before said motion was filed. She did not. She offered no valid explanation for her faux pas either. The general rule is that the clients are bound by the mistakes and negligence of their counsel. 12
In a case of recent vintage, the Court took to task the OSG for its lackadaisical attitude and complacency in the handling of its cases for the government and reminded the OSG that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
. . . just like other members of the Bar, the canons under the Code of Professional Responsibility apply with equal force on lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks. These ethical duties are rendered even more exacting as to them because, as government counsel, they have the added duty to abide by the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the OSG, as part of the government bureaucracy, to perform and discharge its duties with the highest degree of professionalism, intelligence and skill and to extend prompt, courteous and adequate service to the public. 13
Trite to state, this Court is impelled to do so anew in this case. The CA cannot be faulted for ruling that having lost their right of appeal through the negligence of the OSG the petitioners are not entitled to a writ of certiorari
under Rule 65 of 1987 Rules of Civil Procedure. 14
However, prescinding from all the foregoing, this Court grants not only petitioners’ plea that it suspend its own rule on the perfection of appeals but also directs the reopening of the trial of the case for the parties to adduce their respective evidence. The Court excepts this case from the said rule in the interest of justice, to avert a grave miscarriage of justice to the State through the negligence of the OSG. The State has the right to adduce its evidence, testimonial and documentary. Courts should proceed with caution so as not to deprive a party of this right but, instead, afford every party litigant the amplest opportunity for the proper and just disposition of its cause, free from the constraints of technicalities. 15 The trial court no less declared in its January 28, 1999 Order that although the petitioners’ May 30, 1997 Motion for Reconsideration was defective, the Rules of Court should be liberally construed only to make a volte face and issue ex parte an order dismissing the appeal of the petitioners and canceling the hearing on the petitioners’ motion for reconsideration set on February 19, 1999.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
What is involved in this case is a portion of land consisting of no less than 145,682 square meters or less than fifteen hectares which they claim is part of the Mt. Apo National Park as shown by the relocation survey of the panel of commissioners. The case is one of public interest. If the aforesaid property is, indeed, part of the forest reserve as claimed by the petitioners but their right to adduce their evidence is foreclosed by the dismissal of the present petition, the said property would be forever lost to the prejudice of the State. In Republic v. Imperial, 16 this Court held that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
The need, therefore, to determine once and for all whether the lands subject of petitioner’s reversion efforts are foreshore lands constitutes good and sufficient cause for relaxing procedural rules and granting the third and fourth motions for extension to file appellant’s brief. Petitioner’s appeal presents an exceptional circumstance impressed with public interest and must then be given due course. 17
The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the respondents as it ordered the petitioners to vacate that portion of the subject property occupied by them and to return possession thereof to the respondents, without requiring the parties to adduce evidence on the factual issues of (a) whether or not the property covered by the title of the respondents is part of the Mt. Apo National Park (a forest reserve); (b) whether or not the building constructed by the petitioners is inside the forest reserve; and (c) whether or not the petitioners installed a generator unit in the respondents’ property.
It bears stressing that the trial court formed a panel of commissioners to conduct a relocation survey of the subject property. The panel of commissioners found that 145,682 square meters which is a portion of the Mt. Apo National Park had been included in the respondents’ title to the subject property. The trial court ignored this and did not even bother to receive the parties’ respective evidence on the said report. The panel of commissioners was not even called to testify on its findings. The appellate court will be able to review on appeal the decision of the trial court and ascertain whether there has been a travesty of justice to the gross prejudice of the State.
The respondents will not suffer substantial prejudice if the trial is reopened. The records show that the trial court denied respondents’ motion for a writ of execution although the trial court had dismissed the appeal of the petitioners. The respondents did not even assail the order of the trial court.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53440 is REVERSED AND SET ASIDE. The Orders of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 13, dated February 5, 1999 and May 5, 1999 in Civil Case No. 23,168-94 are SET ASIDE. The said Regional Trial Court is DIRECTED to reopen the trial to enable the parties to adduce their respective evidence. The Office of the Solicitor General is hereby directed to represent the petitioners during the trial. No costs.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales and Azcuna, JJ.
1. Penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes, with Associate Justices Eubulo G. Verzola and Marina L. Buzon, concurring.
2. Penned by Judge Isaac G. Rabillo, Jr.
3. Id. at 94–97.
4. Rollo, p. 44.
5. Rollo, p. 110.
6. Id. at 66.
7. 292 SCRA 243 (1998).
8. Ibasan v. Republic of the Philippines, 97 SCRA 100 (1980).
9. Manila Surety & Fidelity Co., Inc. v. Bath Construction & Company, 14 SCRA 435 (1965).
10. Pallada v. RTC of Kalibo, Aklan, Br. 1, 304 SCRA 440 (1999).
11. Bank of the Philippine Islands of Kalibo, Aklan, Branch 1 v. Far East Molasses Corporation, 198 SCRA 689 (1991).
12. Adaza v. Barinaga, 104 SCRA 684 (1981).
13. Far East Shipping Company v. Court of Appeals, 297 SCRA 30 (1998).
14. National Irrigation Administration v. Court of Appeals, 318 SCRA 255 (1999).
15. Sapad v. Court of Appeals, 348 SCRA 304 (2000).
16. 303 SCRA 127 (1999).