G.R. No. 198196, July 17, 2017
SPOUSES LORETO AND MILAGROS SIBAY AND SPOUSES RUEL AND OLGA ELAS, Petitioners, v. SPOUSES BIENVENIDO AND JUANITA BERMUDEZ, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking the reversal of the Decision1 dated November 5, 2010 and Resolution2 dated June 21,2011, respectively, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 03998.3
The factual background is as follows:
The petitioners-spouses Loreto and Milagros Sibay (Spouses Sibay) were registered owners of the subject parcel of land covered under Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-77589, on which they built their family house.
Sometime in 1995, the Spouses Sibay obtained a loan from respondent Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and, as a security, they mortgaged the subject lot to LBP. On October 16, 1996, LBP foreclosed the mortgaged property and, thereafter, transferred the title over the said property in its name.
Subsequently, LBP sold the subject property to Nemesia Bermudez (Nemesia) through the private respondents Spouses Bienvenido and Juanita Bermudez (Spouses Bermudez) for Two Million Pesos (Php2,000,000.00). The purchase price was completely paid on May 26, 2003. Consequently, LBP executed a Deed of Sale dated August 29, 2003 in favor of Nemesia. By virtue of a writ of possession dated July 8, 2003, the subject property was transferred to LBP. Later, LBP transferred the same to Nemesia, who thereafter assigned herein private respondents Spouses Bermudez as caretakers.
On December 15, 2003, the Spouses Sibay filed before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 60 of Barili, Cebu, a complaint for annulment of the loan contract, docketed as Civil Case No. CEB-BAR-290.
However, on March 18, 2008,4 when the case was called for the presentation of the Spouses Sibay's evidence, Loreto Sibay failed to attend due to arthritis. Thus, the court a quo, upon motion of the Spouses Bermudez, reset the hearing on July 29, 2008. It also directed Loreto Sibay, through counsel, to submit his medical certificate, otherwise, they will have to reimburse the defendants of the expenses incurred for unjustified postponement of the hearing.
On July 16, 2008, the Spouses Sibay, thru counsel, filed a motion for postponement due to a conflict in the hearing schedule of its counsel before another court.
In an Order5 dated July 29, 2008, the court a quo denied the motion for postponement. In the same Order, the Spouses Sibay were ordered to reimburse the Spouses Bermudez in the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (Php5,000.00) and pay another Five Thousand Pesos (Php5,000.00) for their unexcused absences on the March 18, 2008 scheduled hearing, or a total of Ten Thousand Pesos (Php 10,000.00).
Aggrieved, the Spouses Sibay filed a motion for reconsideration, but the same was denied. In the Order dated October 10, 2008, the court a quo resolved to reduce the amount to be reimbursed and the fine to a total of Five Thousand Pesos (Php5,000.00).6 Thus, before the Court of Appeals, the Spouses Sibay filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the court a quo when it fined the Spouses Sibay and their counsel for being absent due to illness and conflict of scheduled hearings, respectively.7
In the disputed Decision8 dated November 5, 2010, the appellate court denied the petition for lack of merit. The appellate court found no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the act of the public respondent of meting upon the petitioners the disputed fine.
The Spouses Sibay moved for reconsideration, but the same was denied anew in the Resolution9 dated June 21, 2011. Thus, the instant petition.
This Court is now confronted with the following issues that are far from being novel, to wit:
WHETHER THE FAILURE TO ATTEND THE MARCH 18, 2008 HEARING BY A LITIGANT DUE TO SEVERE ARTHRITIS IS JUSTIFIED UNDER THE LAW AND THE RULES.
WHETHER LORETO SIBAY'S ABSENCE DUE TO SEVERE ARTHRITIS MERIT A FINE, PARTICULARLY ON LITIGANT WHO IS A PAUPER.
WHETHER THE ABSENCE OF THE PETITIONER'S COUNSEL ON JULY 29, 2008 WAS JUSTIFIED.
We deny the petition.
It must be stressed anew that in petitions for review on certiorari the Court addresses only the questions of law. It is not our function to analyze or weigh the evidence (which tasks belong to the trial court as the trier of facts and to the appellate court as the reviewer of facts). We are confined to the review of errors of law that may have been committed in the judgment under review.
In Far Eastern Surety and Insurance Co., Inc. v. People,10 citing Madrigal v. Court of Appeals,11 We had the occasion to stress this rule in these words:
The Supreme Court's jurisdiction is limited to reviewing errors of law that may have been committed by the lower court. The Supreme Court is not a trier of facts. It leaves these matters to the lower court, which [has] more opportunity and facilities to examine these matters. This same Court has declared that it is the policy of the Court to defer to the factual findings of the trial judge, who has the advantage of directly observing the witnesses on the stand and to determine their demeanor whether they are telling or distorting the truth.
Thus, in reviewing the instant petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45, in relation to the CA's decision on a Rule 65 petition, We will limit the issue on: Whether the appellate court was correct in its finding that the court a quo committed no grave abuse of discretion in denying the Spouses Sibay's motion for postponement and in imposing a fine therein?
The petition lacks merit.
As a rule, the grant or denial of a motion for postponement is addressed to the sound discretion of the court, which should always be predicated on the consideration that more than the mere convenience of the courts or of the parties in the case, the ends of justice and fairness should be served thereby. After all, postponements and continuances are part and parcel of our procedural system of dispensing justice. When no substantial rights are affected and the intention to delay is not manifest with the corresponding motion to transfer the hearing having been filed accordingly, it is sound judicial discretion to allow the same to the end that the merits of the case may be fully ventilated. Thus, in considering motions for postponements, two things must be borne in mind: (1) the reason for the postponement, and (2) the merits of the case of the movant. Unless grave abuse of discretion is shown, such discretion will not be interfered with either by mandamus or appeal.12 Because it is a matter of privilege, not a right, a movant for postponement should not assume beforehand that his motion will be granted.13
Thus, We agree with the appellate court's finding that in the absence of any clear and manifest grave abuse of discretion resulting in lack or in excess of jurisdiction, We cannot overturn the decision of the court a quo. Moreso, in this case, where the denial of the motion for postponement appears to be justified.
The court a quo committed no grave abuse of discretion in denying the Spouse Sibay's motion for postponement, and in imposing fine and reimbursement of expenses. To recapitulate: First, when Loreto Sibay failed to appear during the March 18, 2008 hearing, the court a quo directed him, through counsel, to submit his medical certificate to support his defense of illness. However, Loreto Sibay took four (4) months to submit the medical certificate which is actually dated July 17, 2008; Second, the court a quo categorically notified the Spouses Sibay's counsel that failure to submit the medical certificate would entail the reimbursement of defendants' expenses due to unjustified postponement. Nevertheless, despite sufficient notice, even during the hearing on July 29, 2008, no medical certificate was submitted, thus, the court a quo granted the motion to reimburse defendant's expenses and the corresponding fine for unjustified absence; and Third, the Spouses Sibay's counsel's absence on the July 29, 2008 hearing was unjustified, considering that said hearing was scheduled months in advance.
From the foregoing, Loreto Sibay's unexcused absence, albeit he subsequently submitted a four-month late medical certificate, and his counsel's absence due to conflict of schedule are valid justification for the court a quo's denial of the motion of postponement and the resulting directive to reimburse defendants' counsel of incurred expenses and payment of fine imposed upon them. We, likewise, find the counsel's absence as "not unavoidable and one that could not have been foreseen"14 considering that the July 29, 2008 hearing was set with prior agreement of the parties and consultation with their respective calendars, four months in advance. In some instances, resort to postponements may be allowed because of extraordinary circumstances — such as a party's or counsel's sudden death, force majeure or an act of God rendering impossible the accomplishment of its purpose.15 Here, no such circumstances existed. Loreto Sibay grounded his motion on an unsubstantiated claim of illness, while his counsel's excuse is conflict of schedule. Even if these were true, there is still no reason why both Loreto Sibay and his counsel could not have submitted his medical certificate, or fix the schedule and file the motion for postponement, seasonably.
In the case of De Castro v. De Castro, Jr.,16 citing Ortigas, Jr. v. Lufthansa German Airlines,17 We ruled that:
Where a party seeks postponement of the hearing of this case for reasons caused by his own inofficiousness, lack of resourcefulness and diligence if not total indifference to his own interests or to the interests of those he represents, thereby resulting in his failure to present his own evidence, the court would not extend to him its mantle of protection. If it was he who created the situation that brought about the resulting adverse consequences, he cannot plead for his day in court nor claim that he was so denied of it.
Consequently, We cannot strike down the court a quo's Orders dated July 29, 2008 and October 10, 2008. These Orders are not oppressive since unjustified postponement of hearing, in effect, compromises the time not only of the litigants but also of the court. Moreover, although the unjustified absence delayed the progress of the case, the court a quo still allowed the resetting of the presentation of evidence and, subsequently, reduced the reimbursement fees and fine to a total of Php5,000.00. It is, likewise, not violative of the right to access to courts for the trial judge has the duty to resolve judicial disputes without unreasonable delay.
Litigants must be reminded that the judge must, at all times, remain in full control of the proceedings in his sala and should adopt a firm policy against improvident postponements. More importantly, he should follow the time limit set for deciding cases.18 Judges should actively manage the trial of their cases by rational calendaring of cases, and avoid unnecessary postponements of cases as mandated by Administrative Circular No. 1, dated January 28, 1988, paragraph 2.2.19 Judges are bound to dispose of the courts' business promptly and to decide cases within the required period.20 It bears repeating that the public's faith and confidence in the judicial system depends, to a large extent, on the judicious and prompt disposition of cases and other matters pending before the courts.21
Thus, it must be emphasized anew that procedural rules are not to be belittled or dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party's substantive rights. Like all rules, they are required to be followed except only when for the most persuasive of reasons they may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with the degree of his thoughtlessness in not complying with the procedure prescribed. While it is true that a litigation is not a game of technicalities, this does not mean that the Rules of Court may be ignored at will and at random to the prejudice of the orderly presentation and assessment of the issues and their just resolution.22
WHEREFORE, all premises considered, the instant petition is DENIED for lack of merit. Accordingly, the Decision dated November 5, 2010 and the Resolution dated June 21, 2011 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 03998 areAFFIRMED in toto.
Carpio, (Chairperson), Mendoza, and Martires, JJ., concur.
Leonen, J., on wellness leave.
1Rollo, pp. 216-233.
2Id. at 225-226.
3 Penned by Court of Appeals-Cebu City Associate Justice Edgardo L. Delos Santos, with Associate Justices Pampio A. Abarientos and Agnes Reyes-Carpio concurring.
4Rollo, p. 166.
5Id. at 174-175.
6Id. at 180-181.
7Id. at 182-193.
8 Supra note 1.
9 Supra note 2.
10 721 Phil. 760, 769 (2013).
11 496 Phil. 149, 156-157 (2005), citing Bernardo v. Court of Appeals, 290 Phil. 649, 658 (1992).
12Simon v. Canlas, 521 Phil. 558, 572 (2006).
13The Philippine American Life & General Insurance Company v. Enario, 645 Phil. 166, 178 (2010).
14 See Hap Hong Hardware Co., Inc. v. Philippine Milling Company, 111 Phil. 1096, 1099 (1961).
15Intestate Estate of the Late Ricardo P. Presbitero, Sr. v. CA, 291 Phil. 387, 396 (1993).
16 607 Phil. 252, 266 (2009).
17 159-A Phil. 863, 885 (1975).
18Hernandez v. Judge De Guzman, 322 Phil. 65, 69 (1996).
19 "A strict policy on postponements should be observed to avoid unnecessary delays in court proceedings. Faithful adherence to Secs. 3, 4 and 5 of Rule 22, Rules of Court should be observed" Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 1-88, January 28, 1988.
20Office of the Court Administrator v. Andaya, 457 Phil. 58, 65 (2003).
21Gallego v. Doronila, 389 Phil. 677, 684 (2000).
22Limpot v. Court of Appeals, 252 Phil. 377, 388 (1989).