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G.R. No. 162226, September 02, 2013 - SANGGUNIANG BARANGAY OF PANGASUGAN, BAYBAY, LEYTE, Petitioner, v. EXPLORATION PERMIT APPLICATION (EXPA-000005-VIII) OF PHILIPPINE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, Respondent.

G.R. No. 162226, September 02, 2013 - SANGGUNIANG BARANGAY OF PANGASUGAN, BAYBAY, LEYTE, Petitioner, v. EXPLORATION PERMIT APPLICATION (EXPA-000005-VIII) OF PHILIPPINE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 162226, September 02, 2013

SANGGUNIANG BARANGAY OF PANGASUGAN, BAYBAY, LEYTE, Petitioner, v. EXPLORATION PERMIT APPLICATION (EXPA-000005-VIII) OF PHILIPPINE NATIONAL OIL COMPANY, Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

Assailed in this petition for review on certiorari1 is the Order2 dated January 21, 2004 of the Mines Adjudication Board (MAB) declaring its Decision3 dated September 24, 2002 final and executory. Such Decision, in turn, dismissed the protest of petitioner Sangguniang Barangay of Pangasugan, Baybay, Leyte (petitioner) against the application for exploration permit of respondent Philippine National Oil Company–Energy Development Corporation (PNOC-EDC).

The Facts

On July 3, 1996, PNOC-EDC applied for an exploration permit, denominated as EXPA-000005-VIII (subject application) with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Regional Office No. VIII, covering a total area of 16,144 hectares in the Province of Leyte and located within the Leyte Geothermal Reservation.4cralaw virtualaw library

On November 19, 1996, petitioner passed Resolution No. 58, Series of 1996,5 expressing its deep concern for the possible environmental damages that may be brought about by PNOC-EDC’s activities. Thereafter, it filed a Complaint6 dated February 18, 1997 praying for the denial of the subject application with the MGB Panel of Arbitrators (PA).7cralaw virtualaw library

In its Position Paper8 filed on August 15, 1997, petitioner argued, inter alia, that the area covered by the subject application is within a watershed area that is protected under existing laws, which, if granted, would endanger the water supply of the residents and nearby municipalities and cause damage to rivers and forests.9cralaw virtualaw library

For its part, in its Position Paper10 dated August 14, 1997, PNOC-EDC argued that the area covered by the subject application is not closed to mining applications as it is not a proclaimed watershed area and no initial component of National Integrated Protected Areas Systems11 covers the same.12cralaw virtualaw library

The PA Ruling

In a Resolution13 dated June 22, 1998, the PA dismissed petitioner’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction, but remanded the same to the Mining Environment and Safety Division of the Office of the Regional Director of MGB for appropriate action.14 It held that petitioner’s protest to the subject application relates mainly to the issue of environment which it has no jurisdiction to hear and decide pursuant to Section 2, Rule III of the Rules on Pleading, Practice and Procedure before the PA and the MAB (Rules).15cralaw virtualaw library

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration16 dated July 28, 1998 which was, however, denied in an Order17 dated September 25, 1998. Aggrieved, petitioner appealed to the MAB.18cralaw virtualaw library

The MAB Ruling

In a Decision19 dated September 24, 2002, the MAB affirmed the dismissal of petitioner’s complaint, albeit on a different ground. While it ruled that the PA has jurisdiction over the complaint, the same is nevertheless dismissible for being premature.20 The MAB opined that since the complaint is primarily anchored on perceived environmental damages which are still abstract, anticipatory, and not ripe for determination, petitioner lacks a cause of action against PNOC-EDC.21 Nonetheless, the MAB declared that such dismissal is without prejudice to any protest or opposition to PNOC-EDC’s non-compliance with its Environmental Work Program under any exploration permit that may be issued to it.22cralaw virtualaw library

Petitioner filed a Manifestation and Motion for Time23 dated October 30, 2002, praying for an extension to file a motion for reconsideration of the aforesaid Decision.

On September 17, 2003, PNOC-EDC, through its Chairman and President/CEO Atty. Sergio A. F. Apostol, requested that an Order be issued declaring the MAB’s Decision dated September 24, 2002 final and executory for petitioner’s failure to file a motion for reconsideration within the reglementary period.24cralaw virtualaw library

In an Order25 dated January 21, 2004, the MAB declared its Decision dated September 24, 2002 final and executory. It cited Section 11, Rule V of the Rules which provides that motions for reconsideration should be filed within 10 days from receipt of the decision, resolution or order sought to be reconsidered. Moreover, it noted that petitioner actually failed to file a motion for reconsideration.26 Accordingly, the subject application was given due course, subject to pertinent laws, rules, and regulations.27cralaw virtualaw library

Hence, this petition.

The Issue Before the Court

The primordial issue raised for the Court’s resolution is whether or not the MAB is correct in giving due course to the subject application.

The Court’s Ruling

The petition is denied.

At the outset, it should be made clear that petitioner itself admits that it is assailing the MAB’s Order dated January 21, 2004.28 However, it is well to emphasize that such Order merely declared the MAB’s earlier Decision dated September 24, 2002 final and executory for failure of petitioner to either move for reconsideration or appeal the same.

It is well-settled that under the doctrine of immutability of judgment, a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law, and whether it be made by the court that rendered it or by the Highest Court of the land.29 Any act which violates this principle must immediately be struck down.30 This doctrine has a two-fold purpose, namely: (a) to avoid delay in the administration of justice and thus, procedurally, to make orderly the discharge of judicial business; and (b) to put an end to judicial controversies, at the risk of occasional errors, which is precisely why courts exist.31 Controversies cannot drag on indefinitely. The rights and obligations of every litigant must not hang in suspense for an indefinite period of time.32 The doctrine is not a mere technicality to be easily brushed aside, but a matter of public policy as well as a time-honored principle of procedural law.33cralaw virtualaw library

A close perusal of the arguments in the instant petition readily reveal petitioner’s attempt to re-litigate a subject matter of the MAB’s Decision dated September 24, 2002 which had long become final and executory. This audacious act of petitioner should not be countenanced.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Order dated January 21, 2004 of the Mines Adjudication Board is hereby AFFIRMED.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Chairperson), Brion, Del Castillo, and Perez, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 3-38.cralawnad

2 Id. at 41-43. Docketed as MAB Case No. 085-98. Issued by Chairman Elisea G. Gozun and Members Renato A. De Rueda and Horacio C. Ramos.cralawnad

3 Id. at 156-162. Issued by Chairman Heherson T. Alvarez and Members Horacio C. Ramos and Ramon J. P. Paje.cralawnad

4 Id. at 156.cralawnad

5 Id. at 89-90.cralawnad

6 Id. at 91-101.cralawnad

7 Id. at 156-157.cralawnad

8 Id. at 113-116.cralawnad

9 Id. at 113-114.cralawnad

10 Id. at 215-222.cralawnad

11 “National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (NIPAS)” is the classification and administration of all designated protected areas to maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems, to preserve genetic diversity, to ensure sustainable use of resources found therein, and to maintain their natural conditions to the greatest extent possible. (Section 4[a], Republic Act No. 7586, otherwise known as the “National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992.”)

12Rollo, p. 219.cralawnad

13 Id. at 125-130. Docketed as Mining  Case No. 97-001. Issued by Presiding Officer Atty. Fiel I. Marmita and Members Atty. Rodrigo O. Dapula and Engr. Amelia O. Blanco.cralawnad

14 Id. at 130.cralawnad

15 Section 2, Rule III of the Rules reads:chanrobles virtua1aw 1ibrary
SEC. 2. JURISDICTION. – The Panel of Arbitrators shall have exclusive and original jurisdiction to hear and decide on the following:chanrobles virtua1aw 1ibrary
(a) Disputes involving rights to mining areas;

(b) Disputes involving mining permits, mineral agreements, financial or technical assistance agreement;

(c) Disputes involving surface owners, occupants, and claimholders/concessionaires; and

(d) Disputes pending before the Regional Office and the Department at the date of the effectivity of the Act; Provided, That appealed cases before the Department shall be under the jurisdiction of the Board.

x x x x
16Rollo, pp. 131-135.cralawnad

17 Id. at 146-148.cralawnad

18 Id. at 149-155. Memorandum of Appeal dated October 12, 1998.cralawnad

19 Id. at 156-162.cralawnad

20 Id. at 160.cralawnad

21 Id. at 160-161.cralawnad

22 Id. at 162.cralawnad

23 Id. at 164.cralawnad

24 Id. at 41.cralawnad

25 Id. at 41-43.cralawnad

26 Id. at 42-43.cralawnad

27 Id. at 43.cralawnad

28 Id. at 3.cralawnad

29FGU Insurance Corporation v. Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 66, G.R. No. 161282, February 23, 2011, 644 SCRA 50, 56.cralawnad

30 Id.cralawnad

31Apo Fruits Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 164195, December 4, 2009, 607 SCRA 200,  at 213.cralawnad

32 Id.cralawnad

33 Id. at 213-214.
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