[G.R. NO. 183965 : September 18, 2009]
JOANIE SURPOSA UY, Petitioner, v. JOSE NGO CHUA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Resolution dated 25 June 2008 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu City, Branch 24, which granted the demurrer to evidence of respondent Jose Ngo Chua, resulting in the dismissal of Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB.
Petitioner Joanie Surposa Uy filed on 27 October 2003 before the RTC a Petition1 for the issuance of a decree of illegitimate filiation against respondent. The Complaint was docketed as Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB, assigned to RTC-Branch 24.
Petitioner alleged in her Complaint that respondent, who was then married, had an illicit relationship with Irene Surposa (Irene). Respondent and Irene had two children, namely, petitioner and her brother, Allan. Respondent attended to Irene when the latter was giving birth to petitioner on 27 April 1959, and instructed that petitioner's birth certificate be filled out with the following names: "ALFREDO F. SURPOSA" as father and "IRENE DUCAY" as mother. Actually, Alfredo F. Surposa was the name of Irene's father, and Ducay was the maiden surname of Irene's mother. Respondent financially supported petitioner and Allan. Respondent had consistently and regularly given petitioner allowances before she got married. He also provided her with employment. When petitioner was still in high school, respondent required her to work at the Cebu Liberty Lumber, a firm owned by his family. She was later on able to work at the Gaisano - Borromeo Branch through respondent's efforts. Petitioner and Allan were introduced to each other and became known in the Chinese community as respondent's illegitimate children. During petitioner's wedding, respondent sent his brother Catalino Chua (Catalino) as his representative, and it was the latter who acted as father of the bride. Respondent's relatives even attended the baptism of petitioner's daughter.2
In his Answer3 to the Complaint, filed on 9 December 2003, respondent denied that he had an illicit relationship with Irene, and that petitioner was his daughter.4 Hearings then ensued during which petitioner testified that respondent was the only father she knew; that he took care of all her needs until she finished her college education; and that he came to visit her on special family occasions. She also presented documentary evidence to prove her claim of illegitimate filiation. Subsequently, on 27 March 2008, respondent filed a Demurrer to Evidence5 on the ground that the Decision dated 21 February 2000 of RTC-Branch 9 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB had already been barred by res judicata in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB before RTC-Branch 24.
It turned out that prior to instituting Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB on 27 October 2003, petitioner had already filed a similar Petition for the issuance of a decree of illegitimate affiliation against respondent. It was docketed as Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, assigned to RTC-Branch 9. Petitioner and respondent eventually entered into a Compromise Agreement in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, which was approved by RTC-Branch 9 in a Decision6 dated 21 February 2000. The full contents of said Decision reads:
Under consideration is a Compromise Agreement filed by the parties on February 18, 2000, praying that judgment be rendered in accordance therewith, the terms and conditions of which follows:
"1. Petitioner JOANIE SURPOSA UY declares, admits and acknowledges that there is no blood relationship or filiation between petitioner and her brother Allan on one hand and [herein respondent] JOSE NGO CHUA on the other. This declaration, admission or acknowledgement is concurred with petitioner's brother Allan, who although not a party to the case, hereby affixes his signature to this pleading and also abides by the declaration herein.
2. As a gesture of goodwill and by way of settling petitioner and her brother's (Allan) civil, monetary and similar claims but without admitting any liability, [respondent] JOSE NGO CHUA hereby binds himself to pay the petitioner the sum of TWO MILLION PESOS (
P2,000,000.00) and another TWO MILLION PESOS ( P2,000,000.00) to her brother, ALLAN SURPOSA. Petitioner and her brother hereby acknowledge to have received in full the said compromise amount.
3. Petitioner and her brother (Allan) hereby declare that they have absolutely no more claims, causes of action or demands against [respondent] JOSE NGO CHUA, his heirs, successors and assigns and/or against the estate of Catalino Chua, his heirs, successors and assigns and/or against all corporations, companies or business enterprises including Cebu Liberty Lumber and Joe Lino Realty Investment and Development Corporation where defendant JOSE NGO CHUA or CATALINO NGO CHUA may have interest or participation.
4. [Respondent] JOSE NGO CHUA hereby waives all counterclaim or counter-demand with respect to the subject matter of the present petition.
5. Pursuant to the foregoing, petitioner hereby asks for a judgment for the permanent dismissal with prejudice of the captioned petition. [Respondent] also asks for a judgment permanently dismissing with prejudice his counterclaim."
Finding the said compromise agreement to be in order, the Court hereby approves the same. Judgment is rendered in accordance with the provisions of the compromise agreement. The parties are enjoined to comply with their respective undertakings embodied in the agreement.7
With no appeal having been filed therefrom, the 21 February 2000 Decision of RTC-Branch 9 in Special Proceeding 8830-CEB was declared final and executory.
Petitioner filed on 15 April 2008 her Opposition8 to respondent's Demurrer to Evidence in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB. Thereafter, RTC-Branch 24 issued its now assailed Resolution dated 25 June 2008 in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB, granting respondent's Demurrer.
RTC-Branch 24 summarized the arguments of respondent and petitioner in the Demurrer and Opposition, respectively, as follows:
This is to resolve the issues put across in the Demurrer to the Evidence submitted to this Court; the Opposition thereto; the Comment on the Opposition and the Rejoinder to the Comment.
x x x
1. The instant case is barred by the principle of res judicata because there was a judgment entered based on the Compromise Agreement approved by this multiple-sala Court, branch 09, on the same issues and between the same parties.
2. That such decision of Branch 09, having attained finality, is beyond review, reversal or alteration by another Regional Trial Court and not even the Supreme Court, no matter how erroneous.
3. Judicial Admissions or admission in petitioner's pleadings to the effect that there is no blood relationship between petitioner and respondent, which is a declaration against interest, are conclusive on her and she should not be permitted to falsify.
4. That the Certificate of Live Birth showing that petitioner's father is Alfredo Surposa is a public document which is the evidence of the facts therein stated, unless corrected by judicial order.
5. After receiving the benefits and concessions pursuant to their compromise agreement, she is estopped from refuting on the effects thereof to the prejudice of the [herein respondent].
The summary of the Opposition is in this wise:
1. That the illegitimate filiation of petitioner to respondent is established by the open, and continuous possession of the status of an illegitimate child.
2. The Demurrer to the evidence cannot set up the affirmative grounds for a Motion to Dismiss.
3. The question on the civil status, future support and future legitime can not be subject to compromise.
4. The decision in the first case does not bar the filing of another action asking for the same relief against the same defendant.9
Taking into consideration the aforementioned positions of the parties, RTC-Branch 24 held that:
Looking at the issues from the viewpoint of a judge, this Court believes that its hands are tied. Unless the Court of Appeals strikes down the Compromise Judgment rendered by Branch 09 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, this Court will not attempt to vacate, much more annul, that Judgment issued by a co-equal court, which had long become final and executory, and in fact executed.
This court upholds the Policy of Judicial Stability since to do otherwise would result in patent abuse of judicial discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. The defense of lack of jurisdiction cannot be waived. At any rate, such is brought forth in the Affirmative Defenses of the Answer.
This Court, saddled with many cases, suffers the brunt of allowing herein case involving same parties to re-litigate on the same issues already closed.10
In the end, RTC-Branch 24 decreed:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Demurrer to the Evidence is hereby given due course, as the herein case is hereby ordered DISMISSED.11
Petitioner then filed the instant Petition raising the following issues for resolution of this Court:
Whether or not the principle of res judicata is applicable to judgments predicated upon a compromise agreement on cases enumerated in Article 2035 of the Civil Code of the Philippines;
Whether or not the compromise agreement entered into by the parties herein before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 09 of Cebu City effectively bars the filing of the present case.14
At the outset, the Court notes that from the RTC Resolution granting respondent's Demurrer to Evidence, petitioner went directly to this Court for relief. This is only proper, given that petitioner is raising pure questions of law in her instant Petition.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Section 1, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court provides:
SECTION 1. Filing of petition with Supreme Court. - A party desiring to appeal by certiorari from a judgment or final order or resolution of the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Regional Trial Court or other courts whenever authorized by law, may file with the Supreme Court a verified Petition for Review on Certiorari . The petition shall raise only questions of law which must be distinctly set forth.
Clearly, a party may directly appeal to this Court from a decision or final order or resolution of the trial court on pure questions of law. A question of law lies, on one hand, when the doubt or difference arises as to what the law is on a certain set of facts; a question of fact exists, on the other hand, when the doubt or difference arises as to the truth or falsehood of the alleged facts. Here, the facts are not disputed; the controversy merely relates to the correct application of the law or jurisprudence to the undisputed facts.15
The central issue in this case is whether the Compromise Agreement entered into between petitioner and respondent, duly approved by RTC-Branch 9 in its Decision dated 21 February 2000 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, constitutes res judicata in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB still pending before RTC-Branch 24.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
The doctrine of res judicata is a rule that pervades every well - regulated system of jurisprudence and is founded upon two grounds embodied in various maxims of the common law, namely: (1) public policy and necessity, which makes it in the interest of the State that there should be an end to litigation, interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium, and (2) the hardship of the individual that he should be vexed twice for the same cause, nemo debet bis vexari pro eadem causa.16
For res judicata, to serve as an absolute bar to a subsequent action, the following requisites must concur: (1) there must be a final judgment or order; (2) the court rendering it must have jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) it must be a judgment or order on the merits; and (4) there must be, between the two cases, identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action.17
It is undeniable that Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, previously before RTC-Branch 9, and Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB, presently before RTC-Branch 24, were both actions for the issuance of a decree of illegitimate filiation filed by petitioner against respondent. Hence, there is apparent identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action between the two cases. However, the question arises as to whether the other elements of res judicata exist in this case.
The court rules in the negative.
A compromise is a contract whereby the parties, by making reciprocal concessions, avoid a litigation or put an end to one already commenced.18 In Estate of the late Jesus S. Yujuico v. Republic,19 the Court pronounced that a judicial compromise has the effect of res judicata. A judgment based on a compromise agreement is a judgment on the merits.
It must be emphasized, though, that like any other contract, a compromise agreement must comply with the requisites in Article 1318 of the Civil Code, to wit: (a) consent of the contracting parties; (b) object certain that is the subject matter of the contract; and (c) cause of the obligation that is established. And, like any other contract, the terms and conditions of a compromise agreement must not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public policy and public order. Any compromise agreement that is contrary to law or public policy is null and void, and vests no rights in and holds no obligation for any party. It produces no legal effect at all.20
In connection with the foregoing, the Court calls attention to Article 2035 of the Civil Code, which states:
ART. 2035. No compromise upon the following questions shall be valid:
(1) The civil status of persons;
(2) The validity of a marriage or a legal separation;
(3) Any ground for legal separation;
(4) Future support;
(5) The jurisdiction of courts;
(6) Future legitime. (Emphases ours.)
The Compromise Agreement between petitioner and respondent, executed on 18 February 2000 and approved by RTC-Branch 9 in its Decision dated 21 February 2000 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, obviously intended to settle the question of petitioner's status and filiation, i.e., whether she is an illegitimate child of respondent. In exchange for petitioner and her brother Allan acknowledging that they are not the children of respondent, respondent would pay petitioner and Allan
P2,000,000.00 each. Although unmentioned, it was a necessary consequence of said Compromise Agreement that petitioner also waived away her rights to future support and future legitime as an illegitimate child of respondent. Evidently, the Compromise Agreement dated 18 February 2000 between petitioner and respondent is covered by the prohibition under Article 2035 of the Civil Code.
Advincula v. Advincula21 has a factual background closely similar to the one at bar. Manuela Advincula (Manuela) filed, before the Court of First Instance (CFI) of Iloilo, Civil Case No. 3553 for acknowledgment and support, against Manuel Advincula (Manuel). On motion of both parties, said case was dismissed. Not very long after, Manuela again instituted, before the same court, Civil Case No. 5659 for acknowledgment and support, against Manuel. This Court declared that although Civil Case No. 3553 ended in a compromise, it did not bar the subsequent filing by Manuela of Civil Case No. 5659, asking for the same relief from Manuel. Civil Case No. 3553 was an action for acknowledgement, affecting a person's civil status, which cannot be the subject of compromise.
It is settled, then, in law and jurisprudence, that the status and filiation of a child cannot be compromised. Public policy demands that there be no compromise on the status and filiation of a child.22 Paternity and filiation or the lack of the same, is a relationship that must be judicially established, and it is for the Court to declare its existence or absence. It cannot be left to the will or agreement of the parties.23
Being contrary to law and public policy, the Compromise Agreement dated 18 February 2000 between petitioner and respondent is void ab initio and vests no rights and creates no obligations. It produces no legal effect at all. The void agreement cannot be rendered operative even by the parties' alleged performance (partial or full) of their respective prestations.24
Neither can it be said that RTC-Branch 9, by approving the Compromise Agreement, in its Decision dated 21 February 2000 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, already made said contract valid and legal. Obviously, it would already be beyond the jurisdiction of RTC-Branch 9 to legalize what is illegal. RTC-Branch 9 had no authority to approve and give effect to a Compromise Agreement that was contrary to law and public policy, even if said contract was executed and submitted for approval by both parties. RTC-Branch 9 would not be competent, under any circumstances, to grant the approval of the said Compromise Agreement. No court can allow itself to be used as a tool to circumvent the explicit prohibition under Article 2035 of the Civil Code. The following quote in Francisco v. Zandueta25 is relevant herein:
It is a universal rule of law that parties cannot, by consent, give a court, as such, jurisdiction in a matter which is excluded by the laws of the land. In such a case the question is not whether a competent court has obtained jurisdiction of a party triable before it, but whether the court itself is competent under any circumstances to adjudicate a claim against the defendant. And where there is want of jurisdiction of the subject-matter, a judgment is void as to all persons, and consent of parties can never impart to it the vitality which a valid judgment derives from the sovereign state, the court being constituted, by express provision of law, as its agent to pronounce its decrees in controversies between its people. (7 R. C. L., 1039.)
A judgment void for want of jurisdiction is no judgment at all. It cannot be the source of any right or the creator of any obligation. All acts performed pursuant to it and all claims emanating from it have no legal effect. Hence, it can never become final, and any writ of execution based on it is void. It may be said to be a lawless thing that can be treated as an outlaw and slain on sight, or ignored wherever and whenever it exhibits its head.26
In sum, Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB before RTC-Branch 24 is not barred by res judicata, since RTC-Branch 9 had no jurisdiction to approve, in its Decision dated 21 February 2000 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, petitioner and respondent's Compromise Agreement, which was contrary to law and public policy; and, consequently, the Decision dated 21 February 2000 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, being null and void for having been rendered by RTC-Branch 9 without jurisdiction, could not have attained finality or been considered a judgment on the merits.
Nevertheless, the Court must clarify that even though the Compromise Agreement between petitioner and respondent is void for being contrary to law and public policy, the admission petitioner made therein may still be appreciated against her in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB. RTC-Branch 24 is only reminded that while petitioner's admission may have evidentiary value, it does not, by itself, conclusively establish the lack of filiation.27
Proceeding from its foregoing findings, the Court is remanding this case to the RTC-Branch 24 for the continuation of hearing on Special Proceedings No. 12562-CEB, more particularly, for respondent's presentation of evidence.
Although respondent's pleading was captioned a Demurrer to Evidence, it was more appropriately a Motion to Dismiss on the ground of res judicata.
Demurrer to Evidence is governed by Rule 33 of the Rules of Court, Section 1 of which is reproduced in full below:
SECTION 1. Demurrer to evidence. - After the plaintiff has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant may move for dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. If his motion is denied, he shall have the right to present evidence. If the motion is granted but on appeal the order of dismissal is reversed he shall be deemed to have waived the right to present evidence.
Demurrer to evidence authorizes a judgment on the merits of the case without the defendant having to submit evidence on his part, as he would ordinarily have to do, if plaintiff's evidence shows that he is not entitled to the relief sought. Demurrer, therefore, is an aid or instrument for the expeditious termination of an action, similar to a motion to dismiss, which the court or tribunal may either grant or deny.28
The Court has recently established some guidelines on when a demurrer to evidence should be granted, thus:
A demurrer to evidence may be issued when, upon the facts and the law, the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. Where the plaintiff's evidence together with such inferences and conclusions as may reasonably be drawn therefrom does not warrant recovery against the defendant, a demurrer to evidence should be sustained. A demurrer to evidence is likewise sustainable when, admitting every proven fact favorable to the plaintiff and indulging in his favor all conclusions fairly and reasonably inferable therefrom, the plaintiff has failed to make out one or more of the material elements of his case, or when there is no evidence to support an allegation necessary to his claim. It should be sustained where the plaintiff's evidence is prima facie insufficient for a recovery.29
The essential question to be resolved in a demurrer to evidence is whether petitioner has been able to show that she is entitled to her claim, and it is incumbent upon RTC-Branch 24 to make such a determination. A perusal of the Resolution dated 25 June 2008 of RTC-Branch 24 in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB shows that it is barren of any discussion on this matter. It did not take into consideration any of the evidence presented by petitioner. RTC-Branch 24 dismissed Special Proceedings No. 12562-CEB on the sole basis of res judicata, given the Decision dated 21 February 2000 of RTC-Branch 9 in Special Proceeding No. 8830-CEB, approving the Compromise Agreement between petitioner and respondent. Hence, the Resolution dated 25 June 2008 of RTC-Branch 24 should be deemed as having dismissed Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB on the ground of res judicata rather than an adjudication on the merits of respondent's demurrer to evidence. Necessarily, the last line of Section 1, Rule 33 of the Rules of Court should not apply herein and respondent should still be allowed to present evidence before RTC-Branch 24 in Special Proceedings No. 12562-CEB.
It must be kept in mind that substantial justice must prevail. When there is a strong showing that grave miscarriage of justice would result from the strict application of the Rules, this Court will not hesitate to relax the same in the interest of substantial justice. The Rules of Court were 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 real justice have always been, as they in fact ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that when on the balance, technicalities take backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around.30
WhereforE, premises considered, the Resolution dated 25 June 2008 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, Branch 24, in Special Proceeding No. 12562-CEB is REVERSED and set aside. This case is ordered REMANDED to the said trial court for further proceedings in accordance with the ruling of the Court herein. No costs.
1 Records, pp. 1-7.
2 Id. at 1-6.
3 Id. at 19-32.
4 Id. at 19.
5 Rollo, p. 53.
6 Copy of the Petition and the RTC decision in Special Proceeding 8830-CEB not attached to the records of the petition before this Court.
7 Records, pp. 210-211.
8 Id. at 237.
9 Id. at 304.
10 Id. at 304-305.
11 Id. at 305.
12 Id. at 308.
13 Id. at 315.
14 Rollo, p. 7.
15 Philippine Veterans Bank v. Monillas, G.R. No. 167098, 28 March 2008, 550 SCRA 251, 257.
16 Arenas v. Court of Appeals, 399 Phil. 372, 385 (2000).
17 Estate of the late Jesus S. Yujuico v. Republic, G.R. No. 168661, 26 October 2007, 537 SCRA 513, 537.
18 Civil Code, Article 2028.
19 Supra note 17, citing Romero v. Tan, 468 Phil. 224, 239 (2004).
20 Rivero v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 141273, 17 May 2005, 458 SCRA 714, 735.
21 119 Phil. 448 (1964).
22 Concepcion v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 123450, 31 August 2005, 468 SCRA 438, 447-448, citing Baluyut v. Baluyut, G.R. No. 33659, 14 June 1990, 186 SCRA 506, 511.
23 De Asis v. Court of Appeals, 362 Phil. 515, 522 (1999).
24 See Chavez v. Presidential Commission on Good Government, 366 Phil. 863, 871 (1999).
25 61 Phil. 752, 757-758 (1935).
26 Galicia v. Manliquez Vda. de Mindo, G.R. No. 155785, 13 April 2007, 521 SCRA 85, 97.
27 See De Asis v. Court of Appeals, supra note 23.
28 Condes v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 161304, 27 July 2007, 528 SCRA 339, 352.
29 Id. at 352-353.
30 See People v. Flores, 336 Phil. 58, 64 (1997), citing De Guzman v. Sandiganbayan, 326 Phil. 182, 188 (1996).