[G.R. NO. 161533 : June 5, 2009]
FILOMENA SONEJA, Petitioner, v. HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS (2nd Division) and RAMON SAURA, JR., Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a petition for certiorari challenging the Resolution1 promulgated by the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 75669 dated November 19, 2003 which denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration of the Resolution2 promulgated on March 3, 2003 dismissing her petition for certiorari .
The facts are undisputed.3
On July 1, 1995, petitioner Filomena Soneja, as lessee, and respondent Ramon Saura, Jr., as lessor, entered into a lease contract over a property located at 966-F A.H. Lacson Street, Sampaloc, Manila. The rent was fixed at
P5,500.00 per month for a period of three (3) years from July 1, 1995 to July 1, 1998. Later on, Filomena's daughter, Renee Soneja, occupied the premises.
In August 1998, the lease contract expired but petitioner remained in the premises without paying the rent. Because of this, respondent sent a letter to petitioner demanding payment of
P185,280.00, corresponding to the rentals in arrears, and to vacate the said apartment not later than January 31, 2001. When petitioner failed to pay, respondent filed a complaint for ejectment against petitioner and her daughter. The case was referred to the Lupong Tagapamayapa, which issued the necessary certification after the parties failed to settle the controversy amicably.
On December 5, 2001, the Metropolitan Trial Court rendered a decision on the ejectment case against petitioner. The fallo reads:
WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered in favor of plaintiff and against defendants ordering defendants and all other persons claiming rights under them to vacate the premises located at 966-F A.H. Lacson Street, Sampaloc, Manila, and to pay plaintiffs the following sums:
1. Php185,280.00 representing unpaid rentals from August, 1998 until 31 January 2001, and Php5,500.00 per month thereafter until defendants actually vacate the subject premises; [and]
2. Php10,000.00 representing attorney's fees.
Aggrieved, petitioner appealed to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) on January 30, 2002. While the appeal was pending, respondent filed a motion for execution on May 23, 2002, which was granted through an Order5 dated May 29, 2002. Pursuant thereto, a property owned by petitioner and her deceased spouse situated at Tominawog, San Andres, Catanduanes was levied upon. Petitioner immediately filed a motion6 to lift or revoke the levy made upon her property alleging that the same is her family home and should, therefore, be exempt from levy or execution based on the provisions of the Family Code.
On August 6, 2002, however, the RTC resolved to deny petitioner's motion to lift or revoke levy.7 A motion for reconsideration8 was filed but was denied for lack of merit.9 The order, denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration, was received by petitioner on December 9, 2002.10
Meanwhile, on January 20, 2003, the RTC issued an Order dismissing petitioner's appeal for her failure to file the required memorandum. Petitioner, thereafter, filed a Petition for Review under Rule 42 before the CA on March 12, 2003. The case was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 75669.11
On February 10, 2003, petitioner also filed a Rule 65 petition with the CA, challenging the RTC's denial of her motion for reconsideration with respect to the levy on her property in Catanduanes. The case was initially docketed as CA-G.R. UDK SP No. 4783 and was assigned to the Second Division. Later on, the case was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 75669, apparently the same docket number given to the Rule 42 petition earlier filed by petitioner.
On March 3, 2003, the CA resolved to dismiss the Rule 65 petition for being filed three (3) days beyond the reglementary period.12 Petitioner immediately filed a Manifestation13 dated March 11, 2003 explaining that the apparent delay was brought about by the confusion in the CA's docket section. The CA acceded and allowed petitioner to file a motion for reconsideration.14
Subsequently, a Decision15 was reached by the CA on September 18, 2006 also denying the Rule 42 petition filed by Soneja. The decision, in effect, upheld the RTC's order, which dismissed petitioner's appeal following her failure to file the required memorandum. Judgment thereto was entered on October 29, 2006.
Meanwhile, earlier, on November 19, 2003, a Resolution16 was promulgated by the CA denying the Rule 65 petition for two reasons; namely: no prima facie error had been committed by the RTC, and the petition was filed three (3) days late. Undaunted, petitioner elevated the matter before this Court via a Rule 65 petition.
The sole issue is whether the CA acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in upholding the RTC's decision denying petitioner's motion to lift or revoke the levy on her property argued to be a family home.
Petitioner maintains that the levied property is a family home acquired and constituted as their family's residence in 1950. She also claims that her temporary sojourn in respondent's apartment unit in Manila, following her husband's demise, should not be construed as having terminated the nature of the property as a family home, pursuant to the provisions of the Family Code. Moreover, petitioner's married son also stayed in the said family residence while she was temporarily staying in Manila.17
The petition has no merit.
Settled is the rule that a petition for certiorari is proper to correct only errors of jurisdiction committed by respondent court, tribunal or administrative agency.18 Public respondent acts without jurisdiction if it does not have the legal power to determine the case, or in excess of jurisdiction if it oversteps its authority as determined by law. Grave abuse of discretion is committed when respondent acts in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary, or despotic manner in the exercise of its judgment as to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.19 In a petition for certiorari, the jurisdiction of the court is narrow in scope as it is limited to resolving only cases of jurisdiction.20
Here, petitioner argues that the CA gravely abused its discretion in affirming the denial of petitioner's motion to lift or revoke levy without even passing upon the substantive issue on the propriety of levying her family home. She insists that the levied property in Catanduanes should have been exempt from execution pursuant to Article 155 of the Family Code21 in relation to Articles 152 to 154 thereof,22 which she maintains she could have proven had she been accorded the opportunity to present evidence to this effect.
The contention must fall. The appellate court, in its assailed resolution, amply explained the reason for the affirmance of the RTC's decision:
[E]ven upon the allegations in the petition vis-a-vis the assailed Order dated August 6, 2002, We find no prima facie error committed by the court a quo in denying herein petitioner's Motion to Lift or Revoke Levy dated June 27, 2002.23 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
There is also no truth to petitioner's allegation that she was never afforded any opportunity to present evidence to substantiate her claim. A careful perusal of the records of the case shows that the issue of whether the levied property is a family home has been squarely passed upon by the RTC. When the motion to lift or revoke levy was filed on June 28, 2002, it was set for hearing on July 5, 2002, but neither Filomena nor her counsel appeared on said date.24 Despite this, the RTC notified petitioner's counsel of the time to file a reply following respondent's request to file an opposition to Filomena's motion.25 When petitioner still failed to file a reply, the RTC issued an Order dated August 6, 2002 denying the motion to lift or revoke levy.26 The court ratiocinated thus:
The Court agrees with the contention of the plaintiff. Defendant failed to substantiate her claim that the levied property is a family home. She cannot avoid liability under the contract of lease which she entered into by claiming that the lease was passed to defendant Renee Soneja in 1995.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing consideration, the motion to lift or revoke levy made upon the property of defendant Filomena Soneja is hereby denied.
The RTC also found, through Filomena's own admission, that she had not been actually residing in the levied property but in the apartment unit she had leased from respondent, and that it was her married son who was occupying the said property in her stead.28
All these support our view that no abuse of discretion has been committed by public respondent in sustaining the RTC's decision. A determination of the merits of petitioner's contention would reveal that whatever mistake may have been committed in the appraisal of the case - although we do not see any - would, at best, constitute merely errors of judgment and not errors of jurisdiction. The proper recourse should have been an appeal, not a petition for certiorari .
Petitioner should have zealously raised the matter during the appeals proceeding before the RTC. Sadly, she allowed the case to be dismissed following her failure to file the required memorandum. Still, she could have insisted on the resolution of the said issue in her Petition for Review had she not allowed the decision of the CA to lapse without filing a motion for reconsideration. Petitioner therefore has nobody to blame but herself.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit.
* Additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales per Special Order No. 646 dated May 15, 2009.
** Additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario per Special Order No. 631 dated April 29, 2009.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. del Castillo, with Associate Justices Buenaventura J. Guerrero and Jose L. Sabio, Jr., concurring; rollo, pp. 62-63.
2 Rollo, pp. 42-43.
3 Filomena Soneja v. Ramon Saura, Jr., CA-G.R. SP No. 89123, September 18, 2006. Penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, with Associate Justices Elvi John S. Asuncion and Sesinando E. Villon, concurring.
4 Rollo, p. 71.
5 Id. at 73-74.
6 Id. at 75-77.
7 Id. at 26-27.
8 Id. at 22-25.
9 Id. at 28-29.
10 Id. at 10.
11 Id. at 57.
12 Id. at 42.
13 Id. at 56-60.
14 Id. at 61.
15 Supra note 3.
16 Id. at 62-64.
17 Id. at 16.
18 Yu v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 154115, November 29, 2005, 476 SCRA 443, 449.
19 Honrado v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 166333, November 25, 2005, 476 SCRA 280, 289.
20 People v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 144332, June 10, 2004, 431 SCRA 610, 617.
21 Art. 155 of the Family Code provides in full:
Article 155. The family home shall be exempt from execution, forced sale or attachment except:
1) For non-payment of taxes;
2) For debts incurred prior to the constitution of the family home;
3) For debts secured by mortgages on the premises before or after such constitution; andcralawlibrary
4) For debts due to laborers, mechanics, architects, builders, materialmen and others who have rendered service or furnished material for the construction of the building.
22 Arts. 152 to 154 of the Family Code provide in full:
Article 152. The family home, constituted jointly by the husband and the wife or by an unmarried head of a family, is the dwelling house where they and their family reside, and the land on which it is situated.
Article 153. The family home is deemed constituted on a house and lot from the time it is occupied as a family residence. From the time of its constitution and so long as any of its beneficiaries actually resides therein, the family home continues to be such and is exempt from execution, forced sale or attachment except as hereinafter provided and to the extent of the value allowed by law.
Article 154. The beneficiaries of a family home are:
1) The husband and wife, or an unmarried person who is the head of a family; andcralawlibrary
2) Their parents, ascendants, descendants, brothers and sisters, whether the relationship be legitimate or illegitimate, who are living in the family home and who depend upon the head of the family for legal support.
23 Rollo, p. 62.
24 Id. at 28.
27 Id. at 26-27.
28 Id. at 29.