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G.R. No. 148287 - PET PLANS, INC., ET AL. v. COURT OF APPEALS

G.R. No. 148287 - PET PLANS, INC., ET AL. v. COURT OF APPEALS

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 148287 : November 23, 2004]

PET PLANS, INC. and ADRIAN V. OCAMPO, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking the nullification of the resolutions of the Court of Appeals dated February 28, 20011 and May 22, 2001,2 which dismissed CA-G.R. SP. No. 62410, a special civil action for certiorari brought to it by petitioners, and denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration, respectively.

The factual and procedural antecedents are as follows:

Petitioner PET PLANS, Incorporated (PET PLANS for brevity) is a company engaged in the business of selling educational, pension and memorial plans while co-petitioner Adrian V. Ocampo (Ocampo for brevity) is its President.

On January 16, 1995, petitioner PET PLANS employed Jaime M. Abad (Abad for brevity) as its Sales Operations Manager/District Manager, assigning him to its branch office in Aparri, Cagayan. In a letter dated June 10, 1999, petitioners informed Abad that, effective June 16, 1999, he is being reassigned as a Trust Manager, a position which is next lower in rank than the one he was then occupying. The reasons for his demotion are his failure to comply with the sales quota for the years 1998 and 1999, to recruit manpower and to develop his agency. On August 31, 1999, Abad filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), Regional Arbitration Branch No. 02, Tuguegarao, Cagayan for illegal dismissal/demotion, damages, non-payment of basic wages, 13th month pay and other monetary incentives against PET PLANS and Ocampo.3

On December 28, 1999, Executive Labor Arbiter Ricardo N. Olairez rendered a decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, with all the foregoing considerations, judgment is hereby rendered declaring complainant illegally dismissed and ordering respondents jointly and severally to reinstate him to his former position without loss of seniority rights with full backwages and other benefits computed at P26,533.00 basic pay including 13th month pay and allowances from June 16 to December 31, 1999, and P144, 910.35 unpaid basic wages including 13th month pay for 1996 to 1998 plus ten percent attorney's fees. The reinstatement aspect is immediately executory even pending appeal. In case reinstatement is no longer feasible complainant shall be paid separation pay of one month compensation pay including allowances for every year of service. All other claims are hereby dismissed.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioners appealed the decision to the NLRC. On July 25, 2000, the NLRC promulgated its decision with the following dispositive portion:

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is hereby MODIFIED to the extent that the award of backwages amounting to P26,533.00 is hereby SET ASIDE. In all other aspects, the said decision is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied.

Aggrieved by the NLRC decision, herein petitioners, on January 24, 2001, filed a special civil action for certiorari with the Court of Appeals.

On February 28, 2001, the Court of Appeals issued a Resolution, to wit:

The Court resolves to DISMISS the petition for defective or insufficient certification against forum-shopping in that it is not signed by the principal party or by petitioner himself as referred to by Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure but was signed by a certain Rolando Espino without any certification or attachment that he was indeed authorized to sign for and in behalf of the petitioner corporation and to bind the same.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied in a Resolution issued by the Court of Appeals on May 22, 2001.

Hence, the present petition. Petitioners claim that:

The Honorable Court of Appeals has decided questions of substance in a way not in accord with law or with applicable decisions of this Honorable Supreme Court;

The Honorable Court of Appeals acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it dismissed the petition docketed as CA G.R. SP NO. 62410 on the ground of defective or insufficient certification against forum shopping, contending that it was not signed by the principal party or by petitioner himself as referred to by Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure;

The Honorable Court of Appeals gravely erred or acted with grave abuse of discretion when it did not consider as substantial compliance with Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, paragraph 1 of the questioned certification which categorically stated that Rolando Espino is the duly authorized representative of the petitioners, which allegation was made under oath;

The Honorable Court of Appeals gravely erred or acted with grave abuse of discretion when it ignored the Secretary's Certificate and President's Certification submitted by petitioners, attesting to the fact that Rolando Espino, being the first vice-president for legal affairs and corporate secretary is authorized to represent PET PLANS INC. in all cases whether filed by or against the company.4

Before going into the main issue of the case, we deem it proper to pass upon the correctness of the mode of review availed of by petitioners in filing the present petition.

Petitioners brought the present case to this Court through a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. The present petition seeks to set aside the Resolutions of the Court of Appeals which outrightly dismissed the special civil action for certiorari . No issue as to the merits of the case was presented in the present petition. The only issue raised before us is the propriety of the dismissal by the Court of Appeals of the petition for certiorari filed before it, - that is, whether or not the Court of Appeals gravely abused its discretion in dismissing the said petition. In fact, the petition filed before us merely seeks to have the case remanded to the Court of Appeals for adjudication on the merits of the petition. Understandably, there is nothing to appeal under Rule 455 from the questioned resolutions of the Court of Appeals as there was no judgment on the merits of the issues raised before it. Thus, the instant petition should be considered as a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

We now come to the main issue in the present case.

Whether the Court of Appeals acted with grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed petitioners' special civil action for certiorari (CA-G.R. SP No. 62410) on the ground that petitioners failed to comply with the provisions of the Rules of Court on verification and certificate of non-forum shopping?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The applicable provision is Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, to wit:

Section 1. Petition for certiorari . - When any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or officer, and granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require.

The petition shall be accompanied by a certified true copy of the judgment, order or resolution subject thereof, copies of all pleadings and documents relevant and pertinent thereto, and a sworn certification of non-forum shopping as provided in the third paragraph of section 3, Rule 46.

Pertinent portions of Section 3, Rule 46 provides:

Section 3. Contents and filing of petition; effect of non-compliance with requirements. - . . .

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

. . .

The failure of the petitioner to comply with any of the foregoing requirements shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal of the petition.

In CA-G.R. SP No. 62410, a certain Rolando M. Espino signed the Verification and Certification attached to the petition for certiorari , as the duly authorized representative of petitioners. However, no proof was presented to show that Espino is indeed the authorized representative of petitioners. As a consequence, CA-G.R. SP No. 62410 was dismissed by the Court of Appeals.

Subsequent to such dismissal, however, petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration attaching thereto a certificate issued by Espino, who is also the corporate secretary of PET PLANS, indicating that on December 2, 2000, the Board of Directors of petitioner corporation issued a resolution authorizing him to represent the corporation in all cases filed by or against it, "giving him full authority to enter into an amicable settlement, to submit to alternative modes of dispute resolution, and to enter into stipulations or admissions of facts and of documents, as well as to sign, execute and deliver all pleadings, agreements, papers and documents and do all those necessary to carry into effect the herein resolution."6 The Secretary's Certificate was accompanied by a certification issued by herein petitioner Ocampo, the President/CEO of petitioner corporation, attesting to the fact that Espino is indeed the Corporate Secretary of petitioner corporation, and that he is authorized to represent petitioner corporation in all cases filed by or against it, which includes the authority to sign, execute and deliver all pleadings, agreements, papers and documents.7

We have ruled time and again that litigants should have the amplest opportunity for a proper and just disposition of their cause - free, as much as possible, from the constraints of procedural technicalities.8 The policy of our judicial system is to encourage full adjudication of the merits of an appeal; and this Court, in the exercise of its equity jurisdiction, may reverse the dismissal of appeals that are grounded on non-compliance with procedural or formal requirements.9 On the other hand, equally settled is the rule that save for the most persuasive of reasons, strict compliance with procedural rules is enjoined to facilitate the orderly administration of justice.10 The liberality in the application of rules of procedure may not be invoked if it will result in the wanton disregard of the rules or cause needless delay in the administration of justice.11 Indeed, it cannot be gainsaid that obedience to the requirements of procedural rule is needed if we are to expect fair results therefrom.12

In the present case, a reading of the subject resolution issued by the Board of Directors of PET PLANS, shows that it authorizes Espino to represent only PET PLANS, not its co-petitioner, Ocampo. Nothing in the records at hand indicates that Espino is clothed with special authority to represent Ocampo. Hence, Espino does not represent Ocampo, in the filing of CA-G.R. SP No. 62410. As such, Ocampo, being a petitioner in his own right, should have also signed the verification and certificate of non-forum shopping attached to the petition of CA-G.R. SP No. 62410. Ordinarily, Ocampo should have been considered a nominal party as he was merely impleaded by complainant in his capacity as the president of PET PLANS and no specific claim or charge against him, in his personal capacity, was alleged in the complaint filed with the NLRC, Regional Arbitration Branch. However, considering that the Labor Arbiter's decision made him jointly and solidarily liable with PET PLANS, he has become a real party-in-interest whose stake, subsequent to the Labor Arbiter's decision, have become distinct from those of petitioner corporation. As such, it becomes inevitable for him to sign the verification and certificate of non-forum shopping.

Section 3, Rule 46 of the Rules of Court requires that the petitioner shall sign the certificate of non-forum shopping. In the case of corporations, the physical act of signing may be performed in behalf of the corporate entity by specifically authorized individuals for the simple reason that corporations, as artificial persons, cannot do the task themselves.13 However, in the case of natural persons, the Rule requires the parties themselves to sign the certificate of non-forum shopping.14 The reason for such a requirement is that the petitioner himself, or in case of a corporation, its duly authorized representative, knows better than anyone else whether a separate case has been filed or pending which involves substantially the same issues.15

In the present case, it cannot be said with certainty that Espino knows beyond doubt that Ocampo has not filed before any court or tribunal a separate case related to the present petition and the petition in CA-G.R. SP No. 62410. In Loquias v. Office of the Ombudsman,16 we held that failure of one of the petitioners to sign the verification and certificate against forum shopping constitutes a defect in the petition, which is a ground for dismissing the same. While we have held in rulings subsequent to Loquias that this rule may be relaxed, petitioners must comply with two conditions: first, petitioners must show justifiable cause for their failure to personally sign the certification and; second, they must also be able to prove that the outright dismissal of the petition would seriously impair the orderly administration of justice.17 In the present case, we find that petitioners failed to prove the presence of these conditions. The dismissal by the Court of Appeals of CA-G.R. SP No. 62410 should have put petitioners on guard as to the basic procedural requirements in filing the petition. Notwithstanding such dismissal and their subsequent filing of a motion for reconsideration, petitioners still failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the Rules by the failure of Ocampo to sign the certificate of non-forum shopping. In the present petition filed before us, PET PLANS once again failed to submit proof that it has authorized Espino to file the present petition or to sign the verification and certificate against forum shopping attached thereto. Likewise, petitioner Ocampo again failed to sign the certificate of non-forum shopping. We cannot allow a party to gain an advantage from its flagrant disregard of the Rules.18 We find this fatal to petitioners' cause.

Thus, we find that the Court of Appeals did not gravely abuse its discretion in rendering the assailed Resolutions in CA-G.R. SP No. 62410.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DISMISSED.

Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Callejo, Sr., TINGA, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and concurred in by Justices Bennie A. Adefuin-Dela Cruz and Rebecca de Guia-Salvador.

2 Ibid.

3 Docketed as NLRC RAB II Case No. 09-0089-99.

4 Rollo, pp. 17-18.

5 Rules of Court.

6 CA Rollo, p. 99.

7 Id., p. 100.

8 Novelty Philippines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 411 SCRA 211, 220 (2003).

9 Ibid.

10 El Reyno Homes, Inc. v. Ong, 397 SCRA 563, 570 (2003).

11 Ibid.

12 Mariveles Shipyard Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 415 SCRA 573, 584 (2003).

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 338 SCRA 62, 68 (2000).

17 Spouses Ortiz v. Court of Appeals, 299 SCRA 708, 712 (1998); Docena v. Lapesura, 355 SCRA 658, 667 (2001); Torres v. Specialized Packaging Development Corporation, G.R. No. 149634, July 6, 2004.

18 Philippine Banking Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 127469, January 15, 2004.

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