[G.R. NO. 166802 : July 4, 2008]
SPS. ALBERTO GUTIERREZ and EPIFANIA GUTIERREZ, Petitioners, v. SPS. ROGELIO and JOSEPHINE VALIENTE, HON. ALEXANDER TAMAYO, Presiding Judge, Branch 15, Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan and SHERIFF IV PABLO R. GLORIOSO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Resolution1 dated October 22, 2004 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 86957 which dismissed outright the Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition of petitioners Spouses Alberto and Epifania Gutierrez (Spouses Gutierrez) for being deficient in form, and the CA Resolution2 dated January 20, 2005 denying their Motion for Reconsideration with Motion to Admit Annexes and to Allow Payment of Additional Docket Fees.
The present controversy involves a boundary dispute between owners of adjoining Lot 6098-D and Lot 6098-E situated in Banga, Meycauayan, Bulacan. Lot 6098-D is a 250-square meter parcel of land owned by Spouses Gutierrez under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-5728 (M). Lot 6098-E is a 425-square meter parcel of land owned by respondents Rogelio and Josephine Valiente (Spouses Valiente) under TCT No. T-26901 (M).
Lot 6098-E was previously owned by Crispin Gutierrez, the brother of petitioner Alberto Gutierrez, under TCT No. 5729 (M). On January 28, 1997, Spouses Valiente bought said Lot 6098-E thru a Deed of Extra-judicial Settlement of Estate with Sale from the surviving heirs of Crispin Gutierrez, namely, his widow Milagros, and daughters Maricris and Marissa. The vendors told the vendees that a portion of the lot was occupied by Spouses Gutierrez at the mere tolerance of the vendees. Sometime in April 1997, Spouses Valiente conducted a relocation survey to verify the boundaries of their lot. The relocation survey revealed that Spouses Gutierrez occupied a 99-square meter portion of the lot of Spouses Valiente. When Spouses Valiente demanded the return of the encroached area, Spouses Gutierrez refused, claiming ownership of the occupied portion under their title.
Thus, on May 23, 1997, Spouses Valiente filed a complaint3 against Spouses Gutierrez for Quieting of Title and Recovery of Possession with Damages before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 15, Malolos, Bulacan, docketed as Civil Case No. 355-M-97.
Instead of filing an Answer, Spouses Gutierrez filed on November 7, 1997 a Motion for Reconsideration.6 On November 19, 1997, Spouses Valiente filed an Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration with Motion to Declare Defendants in Default and Render Judgment.7 On November 21, 1997, the RTC issued an Order8 denying the Motion for Reconsideration of Spouses Gutierrez and reset the hearing to December 11, 1997.
At the scheduled hearing of December 11, 1997, Spouses Gutierrez and their counsel failed to appear.9 Thereupon, Spouses Valiente moved that their Motion to Declare Defendants in Default and to Render Judgment be granted considering that Spouses Gutierrez have not filed their answer within the allowable period given them.10 Finding merit in the motion, the RTC issued an Order11 declaring Spouses Gutierrez in default and allowed Spouses Valiente to present their evidence ex-parte.
On December 17 and 18, 1997, Spouses Valiente presented their evidence ex-parte. Upon the submission of their evidence, Spouses Valiente rested their case and submitted it for decision. On February 12, 1998, Spouses Gutierrez filed a Motion to Set Aside Order of Default.12 However, the records do not show that the RTC acted on the motion.
On August 17, 1999, Spouses Valiente filed a Manifestation with Motion to Render Judgment13 since no decision had been rendered 18 months from submission of the case for decision. On March 13, 2000, Spouses Valiente filed an Ex-Parte Manifestation14 reiterating their motion to render judgment.
On May 15, 2000, the RTC, now acting through a different judge, issued an Order15 directing the verification and relocation survey of Lots 6098-D and 6098-E by the government Geodetic Engineer to determine the exact description, monuments and areas, as appearing on both titles of the lots, for the reconveyance of the encroached portion to the party entitled thereto. The relocation survey, however, was delayed several times due to the interference of Spouses Gutierrez.16
Two years later, or on May 17, 2002, Geodetic Engineer Joel Atienzo (Engr. Atienzo) submitted his Surveyor's Report17 with a Sketch Plan.18 He stated in his report that an existing alley with an area of 45 square meters was within the boundary of Lot 6098-E.
On July 3, 2002, Spouses Valiente filed their Comments on the Surveyor's Report19 seeking clarification of the Surveyor's Report since the Sketch Plan delineated two other portions apparently encroached in Lot 6098-E, with areas of 17.95 square meters and 44 square meters, but Engr. Atienzo did not state them as encroached upon in his Surveyor's Report.
At the hearing on September 20, 2002, the parties manifested in open court their agreement to the Surveyor's Report and intimated that Spouses Gutierrez were willing to negotiate with respect to the payment of the property encroached upon per Surveyor's Report.20
During the November 20, 2002 hearing attended by both parties, Engr. Atienzo clarified in open court that the 17.95-square meter, 45-square meter and 44-square meter portions delineated in the Sketch Plan were also encroachments on Lot 6098-E.21 On the same day, the RTC issued an Order22 directing the parties to submit their joint commitments on the issues of encroachment and/or payment, considering that there are three encroached portions of the subject lot but only one was reported to be within the boundary of Lot 6098-E.
On March 7, 2003, Spouses Valiente filed a Manifestation23 stating that the parties could no longer submit any commitment on the issues on encroachment and/or payment thereof because no agreement was arrived at between the parties regarding said issues. They also manifested that with the declaration in open court of Engr. Atienzo that the 17.95-square meter, 45-square meter and 44-square meter portions delineated in his Sketch Plan are the encroached areas in Lot 6098-E, then the RTC may finally dispose of the case sans the parties' joint commitments. No other pleading was filed by the parties.
Thus, on June 23, 2003, the RTC issued an Order24 approving the Surveyor's Report and directing Spouses Gutierrez to reconvey to Spouses Valiente the 17.95-square meter, 45-square meter and 44-square meter encroached portions of Lot 6098-E. No motion for reconsideration or appeal from said Order was filed by Spouses Gutierrez.
On August 11, 2003, Spouses Valiente filed a Motion for Execution,25 which was granted by the RTC in an Order26 dated February 5, 2004. On May 25, 2004, respondent Sheriff gave Notice to Spouses Gutierrez of the Writ of Execution.
On May 28, 2004, Spouses Gutierrez filed their Urgent Motion to Quash Writ of Execution and to Stay Notice of May 25, 200427 on the ground that the Orders dated May 15, 2000 and June 23, 2003 directing reconveyance of the encroached portions exceeded the nature of the reliefs prayed for in the complaint.
On June 9, 2004, the RTC issued an Order28 denying the motion to quash of Spouses Gutierrez. It held that the May 15, 2000 Order had long attained finality and that the order for reconveyance in the June 23, 2003 Order is related to the reliefs prayed for in the complaint. Spouses Gutierrez filed a Motion for Reconsideration29 but it was denied by the RTC in an Order30 dated September 9, 2004.
On October 14, 2004, Spouses Gutierrez filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition31 in the CA assailing the RTC Orders dated May 15, 2000, June 23, 2003, June 9, 2004 and September 9, 2004.
On October 22, 2004, the CA issued a Resolution32 dismissing outright the petition for: (a) defective verification because it did not give the assurance that the allegations of the petition are true and correct based on authentic records; (b) failure to attach material portions of the record, to wit:
Motion to Dismiss Complaint, Order dated October 30, 1997 and the Motion for Reconsideration thereto, Order dated November 21, 1997, Motion to Declare Defendants in Default, Order dated December 11,1997, Motion to Set Aside Order of Default, Motion to Require the Acting Chief, Survey Party of CENRO, Tabang Guiguinto, Bulacan to Submit Verification/Relocation, Orders dated April 26, 2001 and November 20, 2002, Motion for Writ of Execution dated August 11, 2003, Motion for Reconsideration dated July 1, 2004 and the Opposition thereto and Reply.33 and (c) insufficient payment of docket fees.chanrobles virtual law library
On November 22, 2004, Spouses Gutierrez filed their Motion for Reconsideration with Motion to Admit Annexes and to Allow Payment of Additional Docket Fees,34 attaching thereto (a) an amended verification, (b) copies of the required documents and portions of the record, and (c) a postal money order for
In a Resolution35 dated January 20, 2005, the CA denied the Motion for Reconsideration of Spouses Gutierrez, holding that strict compliance with the rules of Court is indispensable for the prevention of needless delays or for the orderly expeditious dispatch of judicial business. It also found no merit to the claim of Spouses Gutierrez that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed orders.
Hence, the present petition with the following assigned errors:
A. THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT ALLOWING THE SUBMISSION AND/OR AMENDMENT OF THE VERIFICATION AND CERTIFICATION ON NON-FORUM AND THE SUBMISSION OF THE ALLEGED MATERIAL PORTIONS OF THE RECORD; AND THE FULL PAYMENT OF THE BALANCE OF THE APPELLATE DOCKET FEE OF P680.00;36
B. THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN AFFIRMING THE TRIAL COURT'S DEPARTURE FROM THE USUALLY ACCEPTED JUDICIAL PROCEDURE WHEN THE LATTER AWARDED RELIEFS IN THE JUDGMENT OF DEFAULT NOT PRAYED FOR IN THE COMPLAINT; AND IN ISSUING A WRIT OF EXECUTION OF A JUDGMENT/ORDER THAT WAS CONDITIONAL AND WHICH COULD NOT BECOME FINAL AND EXECUTORY.37
Spouses Gutierrez invoke liberality and the primordial interest of substantial justice over the strict enforcement of the rules of technicality. They submit that the CA should have resolved the petition on the merits, instead of indulging on strict technicalities. They contend that the RTC gravely abused its discretion when it did not quash the Writ of Execution because the Orders dated May 15, 2000 and June 23, 2003 cannot be the basis of the Writ of Execution: the May 15, 2000 Order being an interlocutory order and the June 23, 2003 Order exceeded the reliefs prayed for in the complaint.
On the other hand, Spouses Valiente submit that the CA correctly dismissed the petition for procedural and substantive infirmities since Spouses Gutierrez not only failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the rules but also failed to show that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed orders.
On the procedural aspect of the case, the Court finds in favor of Spouses Gutierrez.
On the matter of defective verification, Section 4, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court states that a pleading is verified by an affidavit that the affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct of his personal knowledge or based on authentic records. This Court has consistently held that this requirement is formal, not jurisdictional.38 It is a condition affecting the form of the pleading; non-compliance with this requirement does not necessarily render the pleading fatally defective. Verification is simply intended to secure an assurance that the allegations in the pleading are true and correct and not the product of the imagination or a matter of speculation, and that the pleading is filed in good faith.39 Thus, the appellate court could have simply ordered the correction of the pleading or act on the unverified pleading, if the attending circumstances are such that strict compliance with the rule may be dispensed with in order to serve the ends of justice.40 Besides, there appears to be no intention to circumvent the need for proper verification since Spouses Gutierrez submitted an amended verification in their Motion for Reconsideration.
With regard to the failure to attach material portions of the record in support of the petition, Section 1 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Court requires that Petition for Certiorari shall be accompanied by a clearly legible duplicate original or certified true copy of the judgment, order, resolution, or ruling subject thereof, such material portions of the records as are referred to therein, and other documents relevant or pertinent thereto; and failure of compliance shall be sufficient ground for the dismissal of the petition.
In the present case, the CA dismissed the petition for failure to attach the following documents:
Motion to Dismiss Complaint, Order dated October 30, 1997 and the Motion for Reconsideration thereto, Order dated November 21, 1997, Motion to Declare Defendants in Default, Order dated December 11,1997, Motion to Set Aside Order of Default, Motion to Require the Acting Chief, Survey Party of CENRO, Tabang Guiguinto, Bulacan to Submit Verification/Relocation, Orders dated April 26, 2001 and November 20, 2002, Motion for Writ of Execution dated August 11, 2003, Motion for Reconsideration dated July 1, 2004 and the Opposition thereto and Reply,41
These documents, however, are not at all relevant to the Petition for Certiorari. Since the issue of whether the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion pertain only to the Orders dated May 15, 2000, June 23, 2003, June 9, 2004 and September 9, 2004, copies of said Orders would have sufficed as basis for the CA to resolve the issue. It is in these Orders that the RTC supposedly made questionable rulings. Thus, the attachment of these Orders in the petition was already sufficient even without the other pleadings and portions of the case record. Moreover, Spouses Gutierrez corrected the purported deficiency by submitting the required documents in their Motion for Reconsideration.
In Air Philippines Corporation v. Zamora,42 the Court clarified that not all pleadings and parts of case records are required to be attached to the petition; only those pleadings, parts of case records and documents which are material and pertinent, in that they may provide the basis for a determination of a prima facie case of abuse of discretion, are required to be attached to a petition for certiorari, and omission to attach such documents may be rectified by the subsequent submission of the documents required.43
As to the shortage of payment of the docketing fee, the same cannot be used as a ground for dismissing the petition. In Sun Insurance Office, Ltd. v. Asuncion,44 the Court held that the strict regulations set in Manchester Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals45 that a court acquires jurisdiction over any case only upon payment of the prescribed docket fees does not apply where the party does not deliberately intend to defraud the court in payment of docket fees, and manifests its willingness to abide by the rules by paying additional docket fees when required by the court. The liberal doctrine in Sun Insurance has been repeatedly reiterated in Heirs of Bertuldo Hinog v. Melicor,46 Proton Pilipinas Corporation v. Banque Nationale de Paris47 and Intercontinental Broasting Corporation v. Alonzo-Legasto,48 and continues to be the controlling doctrine. Since the deficiency in payment was not at all intentional, as there was a willingness to comply with the rules when Spouses Gutierrez remitted the deficiency by postal money order in their Motion for Reconsideration, the Sun Insurance doctrine applies.
It cannot be gainsaid that the emerging trend in the rulings of this Court is to afford every party litigant the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause, free from the constraints of technicalities.49 Technicality and procedural imperfection should thus not serve as basis of decisions.50 As has often been stated, it is far better to dispose of a case on the merits which is a primordial end rather than on a technicality, if it be the case, that may result in injustice.51
In any event, the contentions of Spouses Gutierrez on the substantive aspect of the case fail to invite judgment in their favor.
On the matter of whether the May 15, 2000 Order is final or interlocutory, it must be clarified that since the May 15, 2000 Order merely directed the conduct of a verification and relocation survey to determine the metes and bounds of the parties' respective lots to find out which lot was encroached upon, such May 15, 2000 Order did not finally dispose of the case. It awaited the results and submission of the Surveyor's Report for the final adjudication on the boundary dispute; thus the May 15, 2000 Order was merely interlocutory in nature. The word interlocutory refers to something intervening between the commencement and the end of the suit which decides some point or matter but is not a final decision of the whole controversy.52 In that sense, it does not attain finality since there leaves something else to be done by the RTC with respect to the merits of the case.
It is the June 23, 2003 Order which finally disposed of the case, having settled the parties' respective rights and liabilities, by ordering the reconveyance of the encroached portions of Lot 6098-E.
There is no merit to petitioners' argument that the RTC, by ordering reconveyance, exceeded the reliefs prayed for in the complaint. Spouses Valiente prayed for the following reliefs in their complaint:
a) The verification and relocation survey of the spouses-plaintiffs' subject parcel of land (Lot 6098-E) and that of the spouses-defendants (Lot 6098-D) (at the expense of the losing party or if to be advanced by either party, to be reimbursed later on by the parties concerned by order of the Honorable Court) to settle once and for all who is correct in the parties respective claims;
b) The spouses-defendants to pay to the spouses-plaintiffs the following sum:
P25,000.00 as actual damages; P25,000.00 as attorney's fees plus the sum of P1,000.00 as court appearance fee for the latter's counsel every appearance and attendance in court;
c) The Cost of Suit.
Plaintiffs further pray for such other reliefs and remedies as the Honorable Court may deem just and equitable in the premises.53 (Emphasis supplied).
While the complaint does not categorically state reconveyance as the specific relief desired, it does contain a general prayer "for such other reliefs and remedies as the Honorable Court may deem just and equitable in the premises." In BPI Family Bank v. Buenaventura,54 this Court ruled that the general prayer is broad enough "to justify extension of a remedy different from or together with the specific remedy sought."55 Even without the prayer for a specific remedy, proper relief may be granted by the court if the facts alleged in the complaint and the evidence introduced so warrant.56 The court shall grant relief warranted by the allegations and the proof even if no such relief is prayed for.57 The prayer in the complaint for other reliefs equitable and just in the premises justifies the grant of a relief not otherwise specifically prayed for.
In the present case, this general prayer should be interpreted to include the prayer for reconveyance of the encroached portions since this is already evident from the allegations contained in the body of the Complaint and in the prayer of Spouses Valiente that the respective claims of the parties should be settled once and for all.
At any rate, the issues raised by Spouses Gutierrez refer to the validity of the Orders dated May 15, 2000 and June 23, 2003 which are not proper grounds in a motion to quash execution.
A motion to quash execution is only proper where: (a) the writ of execution varies the judgment; (b) there has been a change in the situation of the parties making execution inequitable or unjust; (c) execution is sought to be enforced against property exempt from execution; (d) it appears that the controversy has never been submitted to the judgment of the court; (e) the terms of the judgment are not clear enough and there remains room for interpretation thereof; or (f) it appears that the writ of execution has been improvidently issued, or that it is defective in substance or is issued against the wrong party, or that the judgment debt has been paid or otherwise satisfied, or the writ was issued without authority.58 None of these instances apply here.
Spouses Gutierrez should have addressed the issues regarding the validity of the Order dated June 23, 2003 in motion for reconsideration or appeal. Since no motion for reconsideration or appeal was filed by Spouses Gutierrez within the reglementary period, the order for reconveyance had become final and executory. Having lost the right to appeal, they can no longer assail the validity of June 23, 2003 in a motion to quash or a Petition for Certiorari and prohibition in the CA.
A motion to quash execution and a Petition for Certiorariand prohibition, are not and should not be substitutes for a lost appeal.59 They are not procedural devises to deprive the winning party of the fruits of the judgment in his or her favor. Courts should frown upon any scheme to prolong litigations. A judgment which has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable, hence, may no longer be modified in any respect except only to correct clerical errors or mistakes. Once a judgment or order becomes final, all the issues between the parties are deemed resolved and laid to rest.60
The Court stresses once again that it is an important fundamental principle in the judicial system that every litigation must come to an end. Access to the courts is guaranteed. But there must be a limit thereto. Once a litigant's rights have been adjudicated in a valid final judgment of a competent court, he should not be granted an unbridled license to come back for another try. The prevailing party should not be harassed by subsequent suits. For, if endless litigations were to be encouraged, then unscrupulous litigants will multiply in number to the detriment of the administration of justice.61
Thus, litigation of this case must now cease.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. Except for the procedural aspect, the dismissal of the Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition in CA-G.R. SP No. 86957 for lack of merit is AFFIRMED. The Order dated June 9, 2004 denying petitioners' Motion to Quash and Order dated September 9, 2004 denying petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration, issued by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 14, Malolos, Bulacan, stand.
Ynares-Santiago, J., Chairperson, Chico-Nazario, Nachura, Reyes, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo and concurred in by Associate Justices Romeo A. Brawner and Magdangal M. de Leon, CA rollo, p. 41.
2 Id. at 94.
3 Id. at 30.
4 Id. at 50.
5 Id. at 55.
6 Id. at 56.
7 Id. at 60.
8 Id. at 59.
9 Rollo, p. 144.
12 CA rollo, p. 63.
13 Rollo, p. 145.
14 Id. at 147.
15 CA rollo, p. 23.
16 Rollo, pp. 148-157.
17 Id. at 159.
18 Id. at 161.
19 Id. at 163.
20 Id. at 168.
21 Id. at 171.
22 Supra note 20.
23 Id. at 169.
24 Id. at 39.
25 CA rollo, p. 71.
26 Id. at 26.
27 Id. at 35.
28 Id. at 28.
29 Id. at 73.
30 Id. at 29.
31 Id. at 2.
32 Id. at 41.
33 Id at 41-42.
34 Id. at 43.
35 Id. at 94.
36 Rollo, p. 16.
37 Id. at 18.
38 Gordoland Development Corp. v. Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 163757, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 425, 433; Benguet Corporation v. Cordillera Caraballo Mission, Inc., G.R. No. 155343, September 2, 2005, 469 SCRA 381, 384.
39 Gordoland Development Corp. v. Republic of the Philippines, supra note 38; Benguet Corporation v. Cordillera Caraballo Mission, Inc., supra note 38; Shipside Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 404 Phil. 981, 995 (2001).
41 Supra note 33.
43 Id. at 69-70.
53 CA rollo, p. 34.
57 Arroyo, Jr. v. Taduran, 466 Phil. 173, 180 (2004); Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank v. Court of Appeals, 388 Phil. 27, 41 (2000).
58 Reburiano v. Court of Appeals, 361 Phil. 294, 302 (1999); Limpin, Jr. v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. L-70987, January 30, 1987, 147 SCRA 516, 522-23.
59 Cf Conejos v. Court of Appeals, 435 Phil. 849, 855 (2002); Del Mar v. Court of Appeals, 429 Phil. 19, 30 (2002).
60 Cf Salva v. Court of Appeals, 364 Phil. 281, 294 (1999).