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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 138993. June 27, 2003.]

PHILIPPINE VETERANS BANK, Petitioner, v. HON. SANTIAGO G. ESTRELLA & SOLID HOMES, INC., Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


CALLEJO, SR., J.:


Before this Court is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, as amended, for the nullification of the Order, dated May 6, 1999, of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 68 in Civil Case No. 62560 clarifying and declaring that the rate of interest of the amount of P28,937,965.65, adjudged by the said court in favor of the petitioner Philippine Veterans Bank under its Resolution (Summary Judgment) dated February 22, 1994, 1 was 8% per annum instead of 18% as appearing in the decretal portion of the original copy of the said resolution appended to the original records of the case.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The case at bar stemmed from the following antecedents:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

On November 5, 1992, Solid Homes, Inc. (SHI) filed a complaint for specific performance, sum of money and damages against Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) with the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, raffled to Branch 68 thereof and docketed as Civil Case No. 62560. SHI alleged, inter alia, that while it had remitted to PVB the amount of P28,937,965.65 in compliance with their Compromise Agreement executed on April 3, 1992, PVB reneged on its obligations thereunder. SHI prayed that after due proceedings judgment be rendered in its favor, as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

PRAYER

WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that, after trial, judgment be rendered:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

1. Ordering the Defendant to release to the Plaintiff all the Condominium Certificates of Title (CCT’S) covering the disputed properties and declaring that the next installment shall be due only after said release.

2. Declaring the Plaintiff to have fully and completely complied with the terms of the Compromise Agreement.

3. Ordering the Defendant to pay the Plaintiff:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

a. The amount not less than One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00) as actual damages;

b. The amount of not less than One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00) as damage to its goodwill and business reputation

c. The amount of not less than One Million (P1,000,000.00) Pesos as exemplary damages;

d. The amount of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Pesos (P250,000.00) as and for attorney’s fees; and

e. The Costs of suit.

Plaintiff prays for such other and further reliefs as this Honorable Court may deem just and equitable in the premises. 2

In its answer to the complaint, PVB prayed that the Compromise Agreement be rescinded and that SHI be ordered to receive the amount of P28,937,965.65 it had previously remitted to PVB and to pay actual and compensatory damages. 3 SHI filed a motion for summary judgment. For its part, PVB filed a motion to dismiss the case. On February 22, 1994, the trial court issued a resolution denying PVB’s motion to dismiss and granting SHI’s motion for summary judgment. The decretal portion of the original copy of the resolution appended to the original record reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, premises considered, and finding the "Motion for Summary Judgment" to be tenable, the Court hereby GRANTS the same. Judgment is hereby rendered directing the defendant to release and deliver to plaintiff 2,850 square meters of condominium units which is equivalent of the payment effected by plaintiff to defendant in the amount of P28,937,965.95 (sic) computed as P10,871.58 per square meter with legal interest thereon.

The plaintiff is however directed to pay the remaining balance of P28,937,965.95 (sic) in six (6) equal quarterly installments, the first installment shall start WITHIN 30 DAYS from finality of this decision/resolution and the succeeding installments to be paid within the first five (5) days of the month of the succeeding quarter thereafter plus 18% interest thereon per annum from this date.

SO ORDERED. 4

However, in the copies of the resolution served on the parties, the rate of interest on the amount of P28,937,965.65 was pegged at 8%. PVB filed a motion for the reconsideration of the said resolution but the trial court issued an order on July 27, 1994, denying the said motion. Instead of appealing to the Court of Appeals (CA), PVB filed a petition for certiorari with this Court docketed as G.R. No. 115847 for the nullification of the resolution of the trial court. In its petition, PVB alleged, inter alia, that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion when it pegged the rate of interest on the amount of P28,937,965.65 at 8% per annum. 5 The Court referred the petition to the CA for resolution. On March 11, 1996, the CA promulgated its decision dismissing the petition. PVB then filed a petition with this Court for the reversal of the decision of the CA, but this Court, in the Resolution of August 28, 1996, denied the said petition on the ground that it was filed out of time. The aforesaid resolution became final and executory.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw library

On March 31, 1999, SHI filed a Motion for Clarification; for Entry; and for Issuance of Notice of Judgment. SHI alleged, inter alia, in its motion that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

(b) That the text of the RTC Resolution in the original records in this case, had been altered by adding in handwriting the figure "1" preceding the figure "8%", making the interest rate therein appear to be "18%" instead of "8%", manifestly surreptitiously, considering that said alteration was made after the copies had been released to the parties and without any reason on record at all for such alteration. 6

PVB filed its opposition thereto alleging, inter alia, that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

2. The interest of 18% should prevail over the 8% interest posited by the movant, not only because the records of this case elevated on appeal actually sustain this rate but also because, of which is more paramount, the rate of 18% conforms to the true intention and agreement of the parties;

3. Plaintiff should not be permitted to understate its obligations with PVB by hiding behind the alleged alteration of the figure in the rate of interest fixed by the Honorable Court; 7

On May 6, 1999, the trial court issued the assailed order granting the motion of SHI, the pertinent portion of which reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court resolves to:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

(1) CLARIFY and DECLARE that the interest rate for the payment of the judgment debt of P28,937,965.65 by plaintiff to defendant is pegged at 8% per annum;

(2) DIRECT the Entry of Judgment into the Book of Entries; and

(3) DIRECT the Branch Clerk of Court to issue the corresponding NOTICE to both parties that the records have been returned to this Court.

SO ORDERED. 8

PVB received a copy of the aforesaid order on May 7, 1999. On July 2, 1999, PVB filed the petition at bar contending that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

That Respondent Judge acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in ordering the fixing of the rate of interest over the judgment debt to only eight (8%) percent, when the papers, documents and pleadings before him fixed the interest rate to eighteen (18%) percent. 9

The petitioner avers that the 18% rate of interest as appearing in the original copy of the resolution of the trial court is correct, as it is prescribed in the Compromise Agreement of the parties. On the other hand, if the trial court fixed 8% per annum as the rate of interest on the outstanding balance of P28,937,965.65, then the said rate of interest is null and void. The assailed order of the trial court is clear proof of its bias in favor of SHI. In its opposition to the petition, SHI posits the view that the petition at bar is a blatant attempt by the petitioner at resurrecting an issue it had previously raised: an issue already resolved by the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 36500 and the review of which was denied by this Court per its Resolution of August 28, 1996. The trial court had no jurisdiction to modify or alter its February 22, 1994 Resolution which had long become final and executory. The respondent asserts that the only issue in its motion for clarification filed with the RTC was whether the interest rate fixed by the said court in its February 22, 1994 Resolution was 8% per annum, as appearing in the copies of the resolution served on the parties, or 18% per annum, as appearing in the decretal portion of the original copy of the same resolution, appended to the original records.

The petition is bereft of merit.

It is a fundamental rule that when a final judgment becomes executory, it thereby becomes immutable and unalterable. The judgment may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by this Court. The only recognized exceptions are the correction of clerical errors or the making of so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party, and, of course where the judgment is void. 10

In this case, the Resolution of February 22, 1994, rendered by the respondent judge, had long become final and executory after it was affirmed by the CA and the review of which was denied by this Court in its Resolution dated August 28, 1996, in G.R. No. 125418. Thus, the said resolution can no longer be modified or amended by a petition for a cert writ regardless of whether the respondent judge committed any error in prescribing an interest rate, as the petitioner claims. 11

The respondent judge certainly committed no grave abuse of discretion in clarifying that the interest rate prescribed in the Resolution of February 22, 1994 was 8% per annum. The assailed order was necessitated by the fact that, as explained by the respondent judge, there was an unauthorized alteration of the copy of the same resolution in the original records with the court a quo:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Foremost, what should be determined is the rate of interest which is reflected in the dispositive portion of the Decision. As can be seen from the original copy of the said Decision, the figure "1" was inserted before the typewritten figure "8" to make it appear that the rate of interest should be 18% instead of 8%. In the considered opinion of the Court, the interest rate should be pegged at 8% and not 18%. The alteration made on the original copy of the Decision was not sanctioned by the Court, for, obviously, if it was so, the Presiding Judge’s signature or initial should have been affixed, it being a substantial change or amendment. In this connection, it is worthy to state that in cases like this, the Presiding Judge always affixes his initials on any change or alteration made. Two, the alteration would have been made to reflect on all copies of the Decision including those sent to the parties. This being not so, the alteration was presumably made AFTER copies of the Decision was released to the parties. Indeed, the fact that the Court decreed the said rate of 8% was admitted by defendant [herein petitioner] in its "Petition for Certiorari with Prayer for the Issuance of TRO and/or Injunction" filed before the Supreme Court (page 279, Records). As the Decision of the Court has become final and executory, it can no longer be disturbed. 12

Contrary to the petitioner’s contention, the interest rate was not fixed by the respondent judge only in the assailed order; the interest rate was already prescribed in his February 22, 1994 Resolution which had long become final and executory. The petitioner cannot now feign ignorance of the interest rate prescribed therein because in its petition for certiorari in G.R. No. 115847 before this Court assailing the same February 22, 1994 Resolution, the petitioner declared that the rate of interest fixed by the trial court in its February 22, 1994 resolution was 8% per annum, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

(c) The penult of his judgment states:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"The plaintiff is however directed to pay the remaining balance of P28,937,965.95 (sic) in six (6) equal quarterly installments, the first installment shall start WITHIN 30 DAYS from finality of this decision/resolution and the succeeding installments to be paid within the first five (5) days of the month of the succeeding quarter thereafter plus 8% interest thereon per annum from this date. (Annex H)."cralaw virtua1aw library

Under the Compromise Agreement of the parties, the balance of P28,937,965.95 (sic) shall be paid in SIX equal monthly installments. The first installment shall be paid within thirty days from date of the payment of P17,362,779.55 and the succeeding installments shall be payable within the first five (5) days of every month thereafter.

The judgment of the Respondent Judge extends the payment of the balance for ONE (1) WHOLE YEAR more than what was stipulated in the contract.

Again, the Respondent Judge failed to give the factual and legal justification for his judgment as required by no less than our Constitution.

Worse, the Respondent Judge ordained payment of interest at EIGHT (8%) per cent less than what was stipulated in the parties’ contract, without any factual and legal justification. Again, a constitutional violation.

Verily, from all the foregoing discussion, the questioned Resolutions of the Respondent Judge suffers from the infirmities of having been issued/rendered with grave abuse of his discretion or in excess of his jurisdiction. Being a patent nullity is like — "A DEAD LIMB ON THE JUDICIAL THREE (sic) WHICH SHOULD BE LOPPED OFF AND WHOLLY DISREGARDED." (ANURAN v. AQUINO, 38 Phil. 29) 13

The said petition was remanded by this Court to the CA, and docketed therein as CA-G.R. SP No. 36500.

It bears stressing that the assailed Order dated May 6, 1999, did not amend or modify the Resolution of February 22, 1994, which had become final and executory. The assailed order merely clarified the interest rate prescribed in the earlier Resolution, which disposed of the case on the merits, to rectify a falsification of the copy of the said resolution appended to the original records. In the exercise of its supervisory powers over the execution of a final and executory judgment, special circumstances attending its execution impelled the trial court to issue the assailed order 14 clarifying the interest rate prescribed in the February 22, 1994 Resolution.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit. With costs against the petitioner.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.

Austria-Martinez, J., on official leave.

Endnotes:



1. Penned by Judge Santiago G. Estrella.

2. Rollo, p. 35.

3. Id., at 69.

4. Id., at 131. (Italics ours)

5. Id., at 150–151.

6. Id., at 175.

7. Id., at 178–179.

8. Id., at 22–23. (Italics ours)

9. Id., at 9.

10. Arcenas v. Court of Appeals, 299 SCRA 733 (1998).

11. Pure Foods Corporation v. NLRC, 171 SCRA 415 (1989).

12. Rollo, p. 22.

13. Id., at 150–151. (Emphasis ours)

14. Santos v. Land Bank of the Philippines, 340 SCRA 59 (2000).

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