G.R. No. 191025, July 31, 2013 - RHODORA PRIETO, Petitioner, v. ALPADI DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Respondent.
G.R. No. 191025, July 31, 2013
RHODORA PRIETO, Petitioner, v. ALPADI DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
That in or about and during the year from 1992 up to 1994, inclusive, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud ALPADI DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, a business entity duly organized and existing under the laws of the Republic of the Philippines, and doing business in said City, in the following manner, to wit: the said accused being then employed as cashier and accounting clerk of the said corporation, collected and received rental payments from the different tenants of Alpadi Development Corporation in the total amount of P544,858.64, under the express obligation on the part of said accused to account for and remit immediately the deposits and rentals due to said corporation, but the said accused, once in the possession of the said amount, far from complying with her aforesaid obligation, failed and refused and still fails and refuses to do so, despite repeated demands made upon her to that effect and instead, with intent to defraud, unfaithfulness and grave abuse of confidence, misappropriated, misapplied and converted the same to her own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of Alpadi Development Corporation represented by Angeles Manzano, in the aforesaid sum of P544,858.64, Philippine Currency.Trial ensued and the prosecution presented its evidence which included, among other things, the testimonies of Angeles A. Manzano (Manzano), Office Manager of ADC and MBI, and Jaime Clamar, Jr. (Clamar), Private Investigator; Prieto’s “kusang-loob na salaysay” executed before Clamar on January 3, 1995, in which Prieto admitted collecting rental payments from the tenants of ADC and MBI, making it appear through fraudulent deposit slips that she deposited her collections in the bank accounts of ADC and MBI, and actually using said collections to pay for her household expenses and to lend to employees of Tri-Tran Transit; the fraudulent deposit slips; Clamar’s Investigation Report dated July 18, 1995 recommending that Prieto be charged in court for estafa and be made to pay the amount she misappropriated; computation of Prieto’s unremitted/undeposited rental collections prepared by Lourdes P. Roque, Supervising Director, and Manzano, Office Manager, with the conforme of Prieto; and Affidavit dated December 16, 1994 of Harry Chua Ga Haou, a tenant of MBI, stating that Prieto, personally and by a handwritten note, requested that rental payments be made in cash rather than checks.
Accused being an employee of the complaining corporation, cannot be convicted of estafa because when accused received the rental payments from the tenants, she only received the material and physical possession of the money and the juridical possession remains in the owner. The position of accused is likened to that of a bank teller receiving money from the depositors.ADC, as the private complainant in Criminal Case No. 97-157752, filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the aforementioned RTC Order. The RTC, in an Order dated August 8, 2005, denied the Motion for Reconsideration, thus:
The Supreme Court ruled in the case GUZMAN vs. CA (G.R. No. L-9572[,] July31, 1956) that:“The case cited by the Court of Appeals (People v. Locson, 57 Phil., 325), in support of its theory that appellant only had the material possession of the merchandise he was selling for his principal, or their proceeds, is not in point. In said case, the receiving teller of a bank who misappropriated money received by him for a bank, was held guilty of qualified theft on the theory that the possession of the teller is the possession of the bank. There is an essential distinction between the possession by a receiving teller of funds received from third persons paid to the bank, and an agent who receives the proceeds of sales of merchandise delivered to him in agency by his principal. In the former case, payment by third persons to the teller is payment to the bank itself; the teller is a mere custodian or keeper of the funds received, and has no independent right or title to retain or possess the same as against the bank. An agent, on the other hand, can even assert, as against his own principal, an independent, autonomous, right to retain the money or goods received in consequence of the agency; as when the principal fails to reimburse him for advances he has made, and indemnify him for damages suffered without his fault (Article 1915, new Civil Code; Article 1730, old).”Accused in this case is not even an agent of the corporation but a cashier and accounting clerk. Payment of rentals by the tenants to the accused is also payment to the corporation because accused is only a cashier whose duties include the receipt of rentals due from the tenants.
WHEREFORE, the Demurrer to Evidence is granted.
On the civil aspect of the case, set for hearing on May 25, 2005 and June 13, 2005 at 8:30 A.M.6cralaw virtualaw library
[T]he Court is constrained to deny the [Motion for Reconsideration filed by private complainant] because the prosecution failed to prove all the elements of estafa with abuse of confidence under paragraph 1(b) of Art. 315 which are the following:ADC sought recourse from the Court of Appeals by filing a Petition for Certiorari, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 91714. ADC averred that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the Orders dated March 8, 2005 and August 8, 2005, contrary to law and jurisprudence, and despite the overwhelming evidence on record proving Prieto’s liability for estafa. ADC additionally pointed out that Prieto’s Demurrer to Evidence was filed beyond the 20-day period granted by the RTC.1) That money, goods or other personal property be received by the offender in trust, or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of, or to return, the same;chanr0blesvirtualawlibraryIn this case, the prosecution failed to prove the first element. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Burce vs. CA, supra, to wit:
2) That there be misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender, or denial on his part as such receipt;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary
3) That such misappropriation or conversion or denial is to the prejudice of another; and
4) That there is a demand made by the offended party to the offender.“When the money, goods, or any other personal property is received by the offender from the offended party (1) in trust or (2) on commission or (3) for administration, the offender acquires both material or physical possession and juridical possession of the thing received. Juridical possession means a possession which gives the transferee a right over the thing which the transferee may set up even against the owner. In this case, petitioner was a cash custodian who was primarily responsible for the cash-in-vault. Her possession of the cash belonging to the bank is akin to that of a bank teller, both being mere bank employees.”To reiterate, when accused received the rental payments from the tenants, she only received the material and physical possession of the money and the juridical possession remains in the owner.
In view of the foregoing, [the] Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED.
Evidence on record strongly supports the People’s argument that the cases cited by the trial court are inapplicable in this case. The elements of Estafa have been duly proven by the prosecution. Records reveal that [Prieto] had admitted having failed to remit the rentals from 1992 to 1994, or for a period of two (2) years. While it is a fact that she was instructed to have the rentals collected to be deposited on the day of the collection or the following day, however, since the misappropriation was discovered only after two (2) years, it only goes to show that she had the discretion as to when to have these rentals deposited or not to have them deposited at all. She had control as to the amount she wished to include as part of her collections, which led her to misappropriating the rental collections. The said misappropriation would not have been discovered only after 2 years had there not been a fiduciary relationship between [Prieto] and her employer. As such, she could not be considered not having juridical possession of the rentals she had collected. Clearly, the trial court erred in declaring that [Prieto] is likened to a bank teller, whose possession of the cash collections is merely physical. Contrary to such findings, [Prieto] in this case had physical or material possession and juridical possession with a duty to make delivery of the collections she received in trust.Given the findings of the Court of Appeals that the RTC Orders were in contravention of law and settled jurisprudence and were, therefore, issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the appellate court held that its reversal of the grant of Demurrer to Evidence did not violate Prieto’s right against double jeopardy, citing People v. Hon. Laguio, Jr.8 and Dayap v. Sendiong.9cralaw virtualaw library
Moreover, it is well to note that the case of People vs. Benitez raised by [ADC], finds application in the instant case. In Benitez, the accused was employed as collector of rents of the houses owned by his employer. For two (2) months, the accused made several collections from his employer’s tenants amounting to P540.00. Having failed to turn over said amount, or to account for it, to his employer, upon demand, the accused offered to work in the former’s establishment, in the sum of P100.00, to be deducted from his salary every month until the whole amount of P540.00 is fully paid. The agreement was reduced to writing. However, after working for a few days, the accused did not report for work. His employer sent him a demand letter for the settlement of his account. As the accused failed to pay the amount of his obligation, a complaint for Estafa was filed against him, and for which he was convicted. The Supreme Court ratiocinates in this case that the failure to account upon demand, for funds or property held in trust is circumstantial evidence of misappropriation.7cralaw virtualaw library
WHEREFORE, finding grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, as prayed for, the assailed Orders, of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 8, dated 08 March 2005 and 08 August 2005, in Criminal Case No. 97-157752, are hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. Let the instant case be remanded to the RTC and reinstated for the reception of the defense evidence/further trial.11cralaw virtualaw libraryThe appellate court denied Prieto’s Motion for Reconsideration in its Resolution dated November 12, 2009.
3. On 06 January 2010, the petitioner, Rhodora Prieto, personally visited the undersigned counsel’s office and after a thorough discussion of the case with her, [Prieto] had a change of heart and has decided not to further appeal her case anymore, considering that she still has the chance to present her evidence before the lower court and at the same time the chance to have the case settled amicably if the lower court allows;chanr0blesvirtualawlibraryAtty. Azcueta then prayed for the Court to note the Manifestation with Motion and to dispense with the filing of the Petition for Review on Certiorari.
4. After careful deliberation and exhaustive discussion with the undersigned counsel, [Prieto] is now voluntarily signifying her desire to withdraw the filing of the Petition for Review on Certiorari;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary
5. For this reason, the undersigned humbly and profusely apologizes for the inconvenience that the non-filing of the petition may have caused to this Honorable Court. The motion for extension was filed solely for the purpose of protecting and serving the interest of [Prieto].12cralaw virtualaw library
Entry of Judgment was eventually made in G.R. No. 190282 on April 5, 2010.
(1) to NOTE the manifestation of Public Attorney’s Office that [Prieto] decided not to appeal her case considering that she still has the chance to present her evidence before the lower court and at the same time has the chance to have the case amicably settled;chanr0blesvirtualawlibrary (2) to GRANT the said counsel’s motion to withdraw the filing of the petition for review on certiorari ; and (3) to consider this case CLOSED and TERMINATED.13
SEC. 2. Time for filing; extension. — The petition shall be filed within fifteen (15) days from notice of the judgment or final order or resolution appealed from, or of the denial of the petitioner’s motion for new trial or reconsideration filed in due time after notice of judgment. On motion duly filed and served, with full payment of the docket and other lawful fees and the deposit for costs before the expiration of the reglementary period, the Supreme Court may for justifiable reasons grant an extension of thirty (30) days only within which to file the petition.In this case, Prieto, through her counsel of record, the PAO, received a copy of the Resolution denying her Motion for Reconsideration of the adverse judgment of the Court of Appeals on November 24, 2009. The 15-day period to appeal would have ended on December 9, 2009, but with the 30-day extension period prayed for by the PAO in G.R. No. 190282, the last day for filing the appeal was moved to January 8, 2010. Clearly, the filing of the Petition in G.R. No. 191025 by Prieto’s new counsel was already beyond the reglementary period for appeal.
The rules provide that if a party is appearing by counsel, service upon him shall be made upon his counsel or one of them unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. x x x.The Court further elucidated in People v. Kawasa and Salido17 on why it is not easily swayed by assertions of gross negligence or mistake on the part of the counsel that should not bind the client:
The general rule is that a client is bound by the acts, even mistakes, of his counsel in the realm of procedural technique. The exception to this rule is when the negligence of counsel is so gross, reckless and inexcusable that the client is deprived of his day in court. The failure of a party’s counsel to notify him on time of the adverse judgment to enable him to appeal therefrom is negligence, which is not excusable. Notice sent to counsel of record is binding upon the client, and the neglect or failure of counsel to inform him of an adverse judgment resulting in the loss of his right to appeal is not a ground for setting aside a judgment valid and regular on its face.
To sustain petitioner’s self-serving argument that it cannot be bound by its counsel’s negligence would set a dangerous precedent, as it would enable every party-litigant to render inoperative any adverse order or decision of the courts, through the simple expedient of alleging gross negligence on the part of its counsel. (Citations omitted.)
If indeed accused-appellant felt and believed that his counsel was inept, that he should have taken action, such as discharging him earlier, instead of waiting until an adverse decision was handed, and thereupon heap all blame and condemnation on his counsel, who cannot now be heard to defend himself. This cannot be allowed, for to do otherwise would result in a situation where all a defeated party would have to do to salvage his case is to claim neglect or mistake on the part of his counsel as a ground for reversing an adverse judgment. There would be no end to litigation if this were allowed as every shortcoming of counsel could be the subject of challenge by his client through another counsel who, if he is also found wanting, would likewise be disowned by the same client through another counsel, and so on ad infinitum. This would render court proceedings indefinite, tentative, and subject to reopening at any time by the mere subterfuge of replacing counsel. x x x.Prieto herein not only alleges mistake or negligence on the part of the PAO, but more seriously, attributes to her former counsel deliberate acts which deprived her of her right to appeal, i.e., refusing to give her a copy of the Resolution dated November 12, 2009 of the Court of Appeals in CA- G.R. SP No. 91714 and misrepresenting to the Court that it was authorized by Prieto to withdraw her appeal in G.R. No. 190282. However, other than Prieto’s bare allegations, there is no other evidence of the purported detrimental acts of the PAO. In addition, Prieto’s allegations are so contrary to the past conduct of the PAO, which diligently represented her before the RTC, the Court of Appeals, and even up to this Court, with the PAO even timely filing the Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review on Certiorari before this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 190282.
It should be emphasized that the resort to a liberal application, or suspension of the application of procedural rules, must remain as the exception to the well-settled principle that rules must be complied with for the orderly administration of justice. In Marohomsalic v. Cole, the Court stated:Prieto cannot claim that she had been deprived of her day in court when her arguments in support of her Demurrer to Evidence had been heard by the RTC and the Court of Appeals. Moreover, she does not lose her liberty at this point for she still has the opportunity to present evidence in her defense before the RTC in the continuation of the proceedings in Criminal Case No. 97-157752.While procedural rules may be relaxed in the interest of justice, it is well-settled that these are tools designed to facilitate the adjudication of cases. The relaxation of procedural rules in the interest of justice was never intended to be a license for erring litigants to violate the rules with impunity. Liberality in the interpretation and application of the rules can be invoked only in proper cases and under justifiable causes and circumstances. While litigation is not a game of technicalities, every case must be prosecuted in accordance with the prescribed procedure to ensure an orderly and speedy administration of justice.The later case of Daikoku Electronics Phils., Inc. v. Raza, further explained that:To be sure, the relaxation of procedural rules cannot be made without any valid reasons proffered for or underpinning it. To merit liberality, petitioner must show reasonable cause justifying its non-compliance with the rules and must convince the Court that the outright dismissal of the petition would defeat the administration of substantial justice. x x x. The desired leniency cannot be accorded absent valid and compelling reasons for such a procedural lapse. x x x.
We must stress that the bare invocation of “the interest of substantial justice” line is not some magic want that will automatically compel this Court to suspend procedural rules. Procedural rules are not to be belittled, let alone dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party’s substantial rights. Utter disregard of the rules cannot be justly rationalized by harping on the policy of liberal construction. (Emphases and citations omitted.)
A judgment becomes “final and executory” by operation of law. Finality becomes a fact when the reglementary period to appeal lapses and no appeal is perfected within such period. As a consequence, no court (not even this Court) can exercise appellate jurisdiction to review a case or modify a decision that has become final. When a final judgment is executory, it becomes immutable and unalterable. It may no longer be modified in any respect either by the court, which rendered it or even by this Court. The doctrine is founded on considerations of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional errors, judgments must become final at some definite point in time. (Citations omitted.)WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED for being filed out of time.
1Rollo, pp. 20-32; penned by Associate Justice Romeo F. Barza with Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Isaias P. Dicdican, concurring.
2 Id. at 34-35.
3 Id. at 81-83.
 Id. at 84-86.
5 Id. at 37.
6Id. at 82.
7 Id. at 27-29.
8 547 Phil. 296, 309-310 (2007).nadcralawlibrary
9 G.R. No. 177960, January 29, 2009, 577 SCRA 134, 146-147.redcralaw
10 G.R. No. 94639, January 13, 1992, 205 SCRA 155, 159.
11Rollo, p. 31.
12 Id. at 114-115.
13 Id. at 117.
[14 Id. at 88-89.
15Basuel v. Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau (FFIB), 526 Phil. 608, 613-614 (2006).
16 G.R. No. 151973, July 23, 2009, 593 SCRA 564, 584-585.
17 327 Phil. 928, 935 (1996).
18Neplum, Inc. v. Orbeso, 433 Phil. 844, 868 (2002).
19Rivera-Pascual v. Lim, G.R. No. 191837, September 19, 2012, 681 SCRA 429, 436.
20 G.R. No. 198357, December 10, 2012, 687 SCRA 643, 647-648.
21 G.R. No. 183526, August 25, 2009, 597 SCRA 159, 173.