Saturday, April 27, 2019

Guidelines for reinstatement after disbarment.

2018 Jul 31
A.C. No. 5580
En Banc

SAN JOSE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC. AS REPRESENTED BY REBECCA V. LABRADOR, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. ROBERTO B. ROMANILLOS, RESPONDENT.


R E S O L U T I O N

PER CURIAM:

For resolution is the Letter[1] dated April 21, 2014, filed by respondent Atty. Roberto B. Romanillos who seeks judicial clemency in order to be reinstated in the Roll of Attorneys.

Records show that respondent was administratively charged by complainant San Jose Homeowners Association, Inc. for representing conflicting interests and for using the title "Judge"[2] despite having been found guilty of grave and serious misconduct in the consolidated cases of Zarate v. Judge Romanillos.[3]

The factual and legal antecedents are as follows:

In 1985, respondent represented San Jose Homeowners Association, Inc. (SJHAI) before the Human Settlements Regulation Commission (HSRC) in a case[, docketed as HSRC Case No. REM-021082-0822 (NHA-80-309),] against Durano and Corp., Inc. (DCI) for violation of the Subdivision and Condominium Buyer's Protection Act (P.D. No. 957). SJHAI alleged that Lot No. 224 was designated as a school site in the subdivision plan that DCI submitted to the Bureau of Lands in 1961 but was sold by DCI to spouses Ramon and Beatriz Durano without disclosing it as a school site.

While still the counsel for SJHAI, respondent represented Myrna and Antonio Montealegre in requesting for SJHAI's conformity to construct a school building on Lot No. 224 to be purchased from Durano.

When the request was denied, respondent applied for clearance before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) in behalf of Montealegre. Petitioner's Board of Directors terminated respondent's services as counsel and engaged another lawyer to represent the association.

Respondent also acted as counsel for Lydia Durano-Rodriguez who substituted for DCI in Civil Case No. 18014 entitled "San Jose Homeowners, Inc. v. Durano and Corp., Inc." filed before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 134. Thus, SJHAI filed a disbarment case against respondent for representing conflicting interests, docketed as Administrative Case No. 4783.

In her Report dated August 3, 1998, Investigating Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro of the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) made the following findings:

... Respondent failed to observe [the] candor and fairness in dealing with his clients, knowing fully well that the Montealegre case was adverse to the Complainant wherein he had previously been not only an active board member but its corporate secretary having access to all its documents confidential or otherwise and its counsel in handling the implementation of the writ of execution against its developer and owner, Durano and Co.[,] Inc.

Moreso, when Respondent acted as counsel for the substituted defendant Durano and Co.[,] Inc., Lydia Durano-Rodriguez; the conflict of interest between the latter and the Complainant became so revealing and yet Respondent proceeded to represent the former.

...

For his defense of good faith in doing so; inasmuch as the same wasn't controverted by the Complainant which was his first offense; Respondent must be given the benefit of the doubt to rectify his error subject to the condition that should he commit the same in the future; severe penalty will be imposed upon him.[4]

The Investigating Commissioner recommended the dismissal of the complaint with the admonition that respondent should observe extra care and diligence in the practice of his profession to uphold the dignity and integrity beyond reproach.

The IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, which [the Court] noted in [its] [R]esolution dated March 8, 1999.

Notwithstanding the admonition, respondent continued representing Lydia Durano-Rodriguez before the Court of Appeals[5] and the Court[6] and even moved for the execution of the decision.

Thus, a second disbarment case was filed against respondent for violation of the March 8, 1999 Resolution in A.C. No. 4783 and for his alleged deceitful conduct in using the title "Judge" although he was found guilty of grave and serious misconduct.

Respondent used the title "Judge" in his office letterhead, correspondences and billboards which was erected in several areas within the San Jose Subdivision sometime in October 2001.

In his Comment and Explanation,[7] respondent claimed that he continued to represent Lydia Durano-Rodriguez against petitioner despite the March 8, 1999 Resolution because it was still pending when the second disbarment case was filed. He maintained that the instant petition is a rehash of the first disbarment case from which he was exonerated. Concerning the title "Judge[,]" respondent stated that since the filing of the instant petition, he had ceased to attach the title to his name.[8] (Italics supplied)

In a Decision[9] dated June 15, 2005, the Court found merit in the complaint, and thus, held respondent guilty of violating the lawyer's oath, as well as Rule 1.01, 3.01 and 15.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, resulting in his disbarment from the practice of law:

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Roberto B. Romanillos is DISBARRED and his name is ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in respondent's record as a member of the Bar, and notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.

SO ORDERED.[10] (Emphasis in the original)

The Court En Banc ruled in this wise:

It is inconsequential that petitioner never questioned the propriety of respondent's continued representation of Lydia Durano--Rodriguez. The lack of opposition does not mean tacit consent. As long as the lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two (2) or more opposing clients, he is guilty of violating his oath. Rule 15.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility specifically mandates that a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure. Incidentally, it is also misleading for respondent to insist that he was exonerated in A.C. No. 4783.

We agree with the IBP that respondent's continued use of the title "Judge" violated Rules 1.01 and 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in deceitful conduct and from using any misleading statement or claim regarding qualifications or legal services. The quasi-judicial notice he posted in the billboards referring to himself as a judge is deceiving. It was a clear attempt to mislead the public into believing that the order was issued in his capacity as a judge when he was dishonorably stripped of the privilege.

Respondent did not honorably retire from the judiciary. He resigned from being a judge during the pendency of Zarate v. Judge Romanillos, where he was eventually found guilty of grave and serious misconduct and would have been dismissed from the service had he not resigned.

In that case, respondent was found guilty of illegal solicitation and receipt of P10,000.00 from a party litigant. We ruled thus:

Considering the foregoing, respondent Judge Roberto B. Rornanillos is hereby found guilty of grave and serious misconduct affecting his integrity and honesty. He deserves the supreme penalty of dismissal. However, respondent, in an obvious attempt to escape punishment for his misdeeds, tendered his resignation during the pendency of this case. ... Consequently, we are now precluded from dismissing respondent from the service. Nevertheless, the ruling in People v. Valenzuela (135 SCRA 712 [1985]), wherein the respondent judge likewise resigned before the case could be resolved, finds application in this case. Therein it was held that the rule that the resignation or retirement of a respondent judge in an administrative case renders the case moot and academic, is not a hard and fast rule. ...

ACCORDINGLY, in view of our aforestated finding that respondent Judge Romanillos is guilty of grave and serious misconduct which would have warranted his dismissal from the service had he not resigned during the pendency of this case, and it appearing that respondent has yet to apply for his retirement benefits and other privileges if any; the Court, consistent with the penalties imposed in Valenzuela (supra), hereby orders the FORFEITURE of all leave and retirement benefits and privileges to which herein respondent Judge Romanillos may be entitled WITH PREJUDICE to reinstatement and/or reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned or controlled agencies or corporations.

SO ORDERED.[11]

The penalty imposed upon him in said case included forfeiture of all leave and retirement benefits and privileges to which he may be entitled with prejudice to reinstatement and/or reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned or controlled agencies or corporations. Certainly, the use of the title "Judge" is one of such privileges.

x x x x

This is not respondent's first infraction as an officer of the court and a member of the legal profession. He was stripped of his retirement benefits and other privileges in Zarate v. Judge Romanillos.[12] In A.C. No. 4783, he got off lightly with just an admonition. Considering his previous infractions, respondent should have adhered to the tenets of his profession with extra fervor and vigilance. He did not. On the contrary, he manifested undue disrespect to our mandate and exhibited a propensity to violate the laws. He is thus unfit to discharge the duties of his office and unworthy of the trust and confidence reposed on him as an officer of the court. His disbarment is consequently warranted.[13] (Additional emphasis and italics supplied)

Aggrieved, respondent filed on July 16, 2005 a Motion for Reconsideration and/or Plea for Human Compassion,[14] praying that the penalty imposed be reduced from disbarment to suspension for three (3) to six (6) months. The Court denied the aforesaid Motion for Reconsideration in a Resolution[15] dated August 23, 2005.

On April 16, 2006, respondent wrote a letter[16] addressed to the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Court, begging that compassion, mercy, and understanding be bestowed upon him by the Court and that his disbarment be lifted. The same was, however, denied in a Resolution[17] dated June 20, 2006.

Unperturbed, respondent wrote letters dated June 12, 2007[18] and January 17, 2010[19] addressed to the Court, praying for the Court's understanding, kindness and compassion to grant his reinstatement as a lawyer. The aforementioned letters were denied for lack of merit in Resolutions dated August 14, 2007[20] and May 31, 2011[21] respectively.

Almost nine (9) years from his disbarment, or on April 21, 2014, respondent filed the instant Letter once more praying for the Court to reinstate him in the Roll of Attorneys.

In a Resolution[22] dated June 25, 2014, the Court referred the aforementioned letter to the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) for evaluation, report and recommendation thereon within thirty (30) days from notice hereof.

Acting on the Report and Recommendation[23] dated November 18, 2016 submitted by the OBC, the Court, in a Resolution[24] dated January 10, 2017, directed respondent to show proof that he is worthy of being reinstated to the Philippine Bar by submitting pieces of documentary and/or testimonial evidence, including but not limited to letters and attestations from reputable members of the society, all vouching for his good moral character.

In compliance with the Court's Resolution dated January 10, 2017, respondent submitted forty (40) letters from people, all vouching for his good moral character:


Name

Date of Letter

Relationship to respondent

Testimony/ies in favor of respondent

1) Jaime B. Trinidad March 7, 2017[25] Friend Respondent is a person of good moral character since 1990.

2) Teodoro Adriatico Dominguez (Marketing Director, Philippines & Sea Ayerst Philippines, Ayerst International; Director, Senior Citizens Assn. of Bgy. BF; Past Coordinator, Member of the Lay Ministers Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, BFHP; Past Grand Knight, F. Navigator, Dist. Deputy Knights of Columbus Council 7147; U.P. Pan Xenia; and UTOPIA, Ateneo) March 9, 2017[26] Tennis buddy Respondent is kind, friendly, very approachable, quick to help with free legal advice/counsel.

3) Carolina L. Nielsen March 20, 2017[27] Neighbor Respondent graciously rendered free legal advice to her and her family.

4) Arnaldo C. Cuasay Undated[28] Brother-in-law After his disbarment, respondent dedicated his life to taking care of his sick wife, who eventually died a few years after.

Respondent also provided support to his children's education and other needs as well as helping relatives and friends. Respondent also provided community services in Muntinlupa and his hometown in Cebu.

5) Atty. Manuel Lasema, Jr. (Founder, Former Chairman and President, Las Piñas City Bar Association, Inc.; Former Director, Secretary and Vice President, IBP PPLLM Chapter; Former Professor of Law, FEU Institute of Law; Third Placer, 1984 Bar Examinations; and Partner, Lasema Cueva-Mercader Law Offices) March 28, 2017[29] Colleague Respondent served as a former president of the Las Piñas City Bar Association.

Respondent implemented various seminars, dialogues and other Bar activities.

6) Patricia C. Sison and Marie Louise Kahn Magsaysay (Chairman) and President, Philipine Ballet Theatre, Inc. (PBT) Undated Statement[30] Clients Respondent is the adviser of the PBT. Respondent advised PBT Board members regarding urgent problems affecting company operations.
Respondent also provided PBT with appropriate guidelines regarding the manner in which they should conduct their duties affecting PBT's legal and financial obligations.

7) Francisco C. Cornejo (President, U.P. Alumni Association) March 24, 2017[31] Friend Respondent is a person of good moral character, especially in his business dealings.

8) Dr. Artemio I. Panganiban, Jr. (President, Professional Academy of the Philippines) March 9, 2017[32] Friend Respondent is a person of good moral character since 1968.

9) Dean Dionisio G. Magpantay (Chairman and President, Asian+ Council of Leaders, Administrators, Deans and Educators in Business) March 20, 2017[33] Colleague Respondent and Magpantay served together in the Federation of Homeowners Association Executive Board in the mid and end of the 1990s, and in their Church and community service with the Knights of Columbus in mid 2000, until the present.

10) Maximo A. Ricohermoso (President, Rotary Club of Mandaue North; and Chairman, Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines, Inc.) March 10, 2017[34] Colleague Respondent is a fellow Rotarian at the Rotary Club of Mandaue North, Mandaue City, Cebu, since the early 1980s.

11) Arsenio M. Bartolome III (First Chairman/President, Bases Conversion Development Authority; and Former President, Philippine National Bank) March 8, 2017[35] Colleague Respondent helps his PWD brother-in-law, Mr. Manuel H. Reyes, in his business transactions.

12) Rodigilio M. Oriino (Former President, Rotary Club of Uptown Manila) March 13, 2017[36] Co-employee Respondent was his co-employee in the Legal Department of FNCB Finance.

Respondent has not done any wrong doing that will affect his good moral character and profession as a lawyer.

13) Epimaco M. Densing, Jr. (Former Chapter President, Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Cagayan de Oro Chapter; Charter Chapter President, Government Association of CPAs, Cebu Chapter; and Former Chapter Head, Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen & Professionals, Paranaque Chapter) Undated[37] Friend Respondent is a friend for over 20 years, whom he knows as a person of good moral character.

14) Mamerto A. Marcelo, Jr. Undated[38] Colleague Respondent was employed as one of the lawyers in the Collection Department of FNCB Finance, of which Marcelo was then a Vice President.

Later on, Marcelo hired respondent as a legal consultant in a telecommunications company the former later worked with.

15) Atty. Eleuterio P. Ong Vaño (Former National President, Philippine Association of Real Estate Boards, Inc.) March 14, 2017[39] Friend Respondent is known to Atty. Vaño as a respectable person of good moral character.

16) Domingo L. Mapa (President, Santos Ventura Hocorma Foundation, Inc.) March 7, 2017[40] Colleague Respondent is "one with [them]"[41] in pursuing their advocacies in their scholarship program.

17) Ernesto M. Caringal (President, Abcar International Construction Corporation) March 7, 2017[42] Colleague Caringal hired respondent as Vice President for Administration of his company even after he was disbarred in 2005 because Caringal believes respondent is a person of good moral character.

18) Rolando L. Sianghio (President, Lacto Asia Pacific Corporation) March 14, 2017[43] Colleague Respondent rendered voluntary service as Adviser-Consultant of the Directors of the Habitat for Humanity and i-Homes in their programs for housing for the poor.

19) PSSupt. Marino Ravelo (Retired PDEA Director) March 10, 2017[44] Business Partner Respondent is Ravelo's business partner in the sourcing and supply of nickel and chromite raw ores from Zambales to their local customers.

Respondent has never been involved in any shady business deals.

20) Atty. Tranquilino R. Gale (Legal Counselor & Consultant) March 14, 2017[45] Former partner in law firm Respondent was the former law firm partner of Atty. Gale, prior to respondent's appointment as RTC judge.

Respondent is honest and of good moral character in his public and private dealings even after he was disbarred.

21) Godofredo D. Asunto (President, Waterfun Condominium Bldg. 1 Inc. (Homeowners Association); and Retired Bank Executive) March 8, 2017[46] Colleague Asunto availed of respondent's legal services in resolving his collection cases.

22) Rosalind E. Hagedorn March 9, 2017[47] Colleague In view of his good values to the profession, Respondent was recommended by Hagedorn to act as legal counsel of her valued clients and friends.

23) Antonio A. Navarro III March 9, 2017[48] Friend Respondent was known to Navarro as a person of good moral character since 1988 up to the present.

24) Peter A. Yap March 10, 2017[49] Community Friend Respondent was known to Yap as a person of good moral character since 1975 up to the present.

25) Teodora S. Ocampo (Professor, De La Salle University) March 12, 2017[50] Colleague Respondent worked with Ocampo in a power project installation in 2000.

Sender claims she found respondent to be an ethical, trustworthy and a person of high integrity.

26) Valentin T. Banda (Retired Bank Officer, Philippine Veterans Bank) March 12, 2017[51] Friend Respondent's disbarment has turned him into a new person.

27) Atty. Samuel A. Nuñez March 13, 2017[52] Friend Respondent has been active in the community affairs while staying in Cebu.

28) Atty. Ramon C. Gonzaga, Jr. March 18, 2017[53] Former partner in law firm Atty. Gonzaga, Jr., stated that he has not heard that respondent was involved in any charge or complaint, morally or otherwise, even after he was disbarred.

29) Efren Z. Palugod (Chairman Plaza Loans Corporation) March 8, 2017[54] Friend Respondent is of good moral character.
Respondent stayed in touch with Palugod whenever respondent would go to Cebu every now and then for his coal supply business.

30) Rodolfo G. Pelayo (Chairman, Power & Synergy, Inc.) March 7, 2017[55] Colleague Despite being disbarred, respondent involved himself in worthwhile activities as senior citizen and offered his services as business consultant to their company, Power & Synergy, Inc. and friends.

31) Sol Owen G. Figues Undated[56] Friend Respondent should be reinstated as a lawyer again in order for him to "cotinue his [G]ood Samaritan work to the common people that seeks justice and guidance in times of trouble and grief."[57]

32) Col. Jose Ely D. Alberto GSC (INF) (Internal Auditor, Philippine Army) March 24, 2017[58] Acquaintance Respondent was known to Navarro as a person of good moral character since 2000 up to the present.

33) Atty. Albert L. Hontanosas March 8, 2017[59] Friend Respondent has integrity, independence, industry and diligence.
Respondent should be given a second chance to serve the Filipino masses as a bonafide member of the Philippine Bar.

34) Antonio E. De Borja (Former Councilor, Baliwag, Bulacan; and President, Early Riser Assembly, Baliwag, Bulacan) March 17, 2017[60] Friend Respondent provides free legal assistance to the poor, who were victims of injustice, through his son who is also a lawyer.

35) Tomas Barba Tan (President, Cebu Adconsultants, Inc.) March 9, 2017[61] Client Respondent is a person of good moral character.

36) Engr. Daniel D. Villacarlos (Operations Manager, Hi-Tri Development Corp.) March 11, 2017[62] Friend Respondent is very dependable, fair and a very respectable person both on the tennis courts in Paranaque City where they are both members until now and inside the court of law when he was still active as an excellent and reputable lawyer.

Respondent's conduct of sportsmanship in BF Homes Tennis Club and as a person is exemplary.

37) Roy Bufi (President, The Bas Corporation) March 9, 2017[63] Friend Respondent is known to Bufi as kind, generous and is very professional when it comes to work.

38) Remigio R. Viola (Retired Municipal Administrator, Municipality of Baliwag, Bulacan) March 13, 2017[64] Former colleague Respondent is his business consultant because respondent is known to Viola for being a community leader.

39) Leonardo U. Lindo March 20, 2017[65] Friend Respondent is a strong supporter of their social and civic activities to provide free medical services to the less fortunate members of the society.

40) Felipe De Sagun Undated[66] Friend In 2003, respondent handled their case against Metrobank and won the case for them.

Respondent is trustworthy, reliable and honest.

The Court's Ruling

The Court denies the present appeal.

Membership in the Bar is a privilege burdened with conditions.[67] It is not a natural, absolute or constitutional right granted to everyone who demands it, but rather, a special privilege granted and continued only to those who demonstrate special fitness in intellectual attainment and in moral character.[68] The same reasoning applies to reinstatement of a disbarred lawyer. When exercising its inherent power to grant reinstatement, the Court should see to it that only those who establish their present moral fitness and knowledge of the law will be readmitted to the Bar. Thus, though the doors to the practice of law are never permanently closed on a disbarred attorney, the Court owes a duty to the legal profession as well as to the general public to ensure that if the doors are opened, it is done so only as a matter of justice.[69]

The basic inquiry in a petition for reinstatement to the practice of law is whether the lawyer has sufficiently rehabilitated himself or herself in conduct and character. The lawyer has to demonstrate and prove by clear and convincing evidence that he or she is again worthy of membership in the Bar. The Court will take into consideration his or her character and standing prior to the disbarment, the nature and character of the charge/s for which he or she was disbarred, his or her conduct subsequent to the disbarment, and the time that has elapsed in between the disbarment and the application for reinstatement.[70]

Clemency, as an act of mercy removing any disqualification, should be balanced with the preservation of public confidence in the courts. The Court will grant it only if there is a showing that it is merited. Proof of reformation and a showing of potential and promise are indispensable.[71]

The principle which should hold true not only for judges but also for lawyers, being officers of the court, is that judicial "[c]lemency, as an act of mercy removing any disqualification, should be balanced with the preservation of public confidence in the courts. [Thus,] [t]he Court will grant it only if there is a showing that it is merited. Proof of reformation and a showing of potential and promise are indispensable."[72]

In the case of Re: Letter of Judge Augustus C. Diaz, Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 37, Appealing for Judicial Clemency,[73] the Court laid down the following guidelines in resolving requests for judicial clemency, to wit:

There must be proof of remorse and reformation.[74] These shall include but should not be limited to certifications or testimonials of the officer(s) or chapter(s) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, judges or judges associations and prominent members of the community with proven integrity and probity. A subsequent finding of guilt in an administrative case for the same or similar misconduct will give rise to a strong presumption of non-reformation.

Sufficient time must have lapsed from the imposition of the penalty[75] to ensure a period of reform.

The age of the person asking for clemency must show that he still has productive years ahead of him that can be put to good use by giving him a chance to redeem himself.[76]

There must be a showing of promise[77] (such as intellectual aptitude, learning or legal acumen or contribution to legal scholarship and the development of the legal system or administrative and other relevant skills), as well as potential for public service.[78]

There must be other relevant factors and circumstances that may justify clemency.

In the case of Bernardo v. Atty. Mejia,[79] the Court, in deciding whether or not to reinstate Atty. Mejia, considered that 15 years had already elapsed from the time he was disbarred, which gave him sufficient time to acknowledge his infractions and to repent. The Court also took into account the fact that Atty. Mejia is already of advanced years, has long repented, and suffered enough. The Court also noted that he had made a significant contribution by putting up the Mejia Law Joumal containing his religious and social writing; and the religious organization named "El Cristo Movement and Crusade on Miracle of the Heart and Mind." Furthermore, the Court considered that Atty. Mejia committed no other transgressions since he was disbarred.[80]

In Adez Realty, Inc. v. CA,[81] the Court granted the reinstatement of the disbarred lawyer (found to be guilty of intercalating a material fact in a CA decision) and considered the period of three (3) years as sufficient time to do soul-searching and to prove that he is worthy to practice law. In that case, the Court took into consideration the disbarred lawyer's sincere admission of guilty and repeated pleas for compassion.[82]

In Valencia v. Atty. Antiniw,[83] the Court rejnstated Atty. Antiniw (who was found guilty of malpractice in falsifying a notarized deed of sale and subsequently introducing the document in court) after considering the long period of his disbarment (almost 15 years). The Court considered that during Atty. Antiniw's disbarment, he has been persistent in reiterating his apologies to the Court, has engaged in humanitarian and civic services, and retained an unblemished record as an elected public servant, as shown by the testimonials of the numerous civic and professional organizations, government institutions, and members of the judiciary.[84]

In all these cases, the Court considered the conduct of the disbarred attorney before and after his disbarment, the time that had elapsed from the disbarment and the application for reinstatement, and more importantly, the disbarred attorneys' sincere realization and acknowledgment of guilt.[85]

Here, while more than ten (10) years had already passed since his disbarment on June 15, 2005, respondent's present appeal has failed to show substantial proof of his reformation as required in the first guideline above.

The Court is not persuaded by respondent's sincerity in acknowledging his guilt. While he expressly asks for forgiveness for his transgressions in his letters to the Court, respondent continues to insist on his honest belief that there was no conflict of interest notwithstanding the Court's finding to the contrary. Respondent asserted in all his letters to the Court that:

I also did not [do] and I do not deny the fact that in the year 1985, I filed ONLY a single motion for the issuance of an alias writ of execution on behalf of said San Jose Homeowners Association against the Durano & Co., Inc. before the HLURB in a case for completion of development under P.D. 957, and that later in the year 1996, I handled another HLURB case for the respondents Durano/Rodriguez in the said case filed by the San Jose Homeowners Association, for the declaration of the school site lot as an open space, on the basis of my firm belief that I was given a prior consent to do so by the said association, pursuant to its Board Resolution, dated March 14, 1987, a copy of which is attached and made an integral part hereof, as Annex "A" and also because of my honest belief that there was no conflict of interest situation obtaining under the circumstances, as those cases are totally unrelated [and] distinct from each other, pursuant to the jurisprudences that I had cited in my ANSWER in this disbarment case.[86] (Emphasis supplied)

Furthermore, the testimonials submitted by respondent all claim that respondent is a person of good moral character without explaining why or submitting proof in support thereof. The only ostensible proof of reformation that respondent has presented are the following:

The Letter dated March 7, 2017 signed by Domingo L. Mapa, President of Santos Ventura Hocorma Foundation, Inc., averring that respondent is "one with [them] in pursuing [their] advocacies in [their] scholarship x x x;"[87]

The Letter dated March 13, 2017 signed by Atty. Samuel A. Nuñez, claiming that respondent has been active in community affairs while staying in Cebu;[88]

The undated Letter signed by Sol Owen G. Figues, humbly asking that respondent be reinstated again in order for him to "continue his [G]ood Samaritan work to the common people that seeks justice and guidance in times of trouble and grief;"[89]

The undated Letter of Arnaldo C. Cuasay, the brother-in-law of respondent, stating that after his disbarment, respondent provided community services in Muntinlupa and in his hometown in Cebu;[90]

The Letter dated March 14, 2017 signed by Rolando L. Sianghio, President of Lacto Asia Pacific Corporation, stating that respondent rendered voluntary service as Adviser-Consultant of the Directors of the Habitat for Humanity in their programs for housing for the poor;[91]

The Letter dated March 17, 2017 signed by Antonio E. De Borja, a friend of respondent, where Borja claimed that respondent provides free legal assistance to the poor, who were victims of injustice, through his son who is also a lawyer;[92]

The Letter dated March 20, 2017 signed by Leonardo U. Lindo, a friend of respondent, which stated that respondent is "[a strong supporter of their] social [and] civic activities to provide free medical services to the less fortunate members of the society;"[93]

The Letter dated March 20, 2017 signed by Dean Dionisio G. Magpantay, Chairman and President of Asian+ Council of Leaders, Administrators, Deans and Educators in Business, stating that he personally knows respondent having served together in their church and community service with the Knights of Columbus in the mid-2000s until the present;[94] and

The Letter dated March 20, 2017 signed by Carolina L. Nielsen, a neighbor of respondent, where she claimed that respondent "[graciously rendered free legal advice to her and her family.]"[95]

Still, aside from these bare statements, no other proof was presented to specify the actual engagements or activities by which respondent had served the members of his community or church, provided free legal assistance to the poor and supported social and civic activities to provide free medical services to the. less fortunate, hence, insufficient to demonstrate any form of consistency in his supposed desire to reform.

The other testimonials which respondent submitted, particularly that of Ernesto M. Caringal, President of Abcar International Construction Corporation, who stated that "[he hired respondent as Vice President for Administration of his company even after] he was disbarred in 2005,"[96] and that of Police Senior Superintendent Marino Ravelo (Ret.), who stated that "[he is the business partner of respondent] in the sourcing and supply of nickel and chromite raw ores from Zambales to [their] local customers,"[97] all relate to respondent's means of livelihood after he was disbarred; hence, these are incompetent evidence to prove his reformation which connotes consistent improvement subsequent to his disbarment. If at all, these testimonials contradict respondent's claim that he and his family were having financial difficulties due to his disbarment, to wit:

Since then up to now, I and my family had been marginally surviving and still continue to survive, from out of the measly funds that I have been able to borrow from our relatives and my former clients (who, of course I don't expect to continue lending to me indefinitely) to whom I promised to repay my debts upon the resumption of my law practice.[98]

To add, no other evidence was presented in his appeal to demonstrate his potential for public service, or that he - now being 71 years of age - still has productive years ahead of him that can be put to good use by giving him a chance to redeem himself. Thus, the third and fourth guidelines were neither complied with.[99]

While the Court sympathizes with the predicaments of disbarred lawyers - may it be financial or reputational in cause - it stands firm in its commitment to the public to preserve the integrity and esteem of the Bar. As held in a previous case, "in considering [a lawyer's] application for reinstatement to the practice of law, the duty of the Court is to determine whether he has established moral reformation and rehabilitation, disregarding its feeling of sympathy or pity."[100]

The practice of law is a privilege, and respondent has failed to prove that he has complied with the above-discussed guidelines for reinstatement to the practice of law. The Court, therefore, denies his petition.

WHEREFORE, the instant appeal is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Senior Associate Justice), Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Jardeleza, Caguioa, Martires, Tijam, Reyes, Jr., and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.
Velasco, Jr., J., No part, relation to a party.

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on July 31, 2018 a Resolution, copy attached herewith was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on September 26, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.

Very truly yours,

(SGD)

EDGAR O. ARICHETA
Clerk of Court

[1] Rollo, pp. 360-362.

[2] Id. at 5, 235; italics supplied.

[3] 312 Phil. 679 (1995).

[4] Rollo, p. 20.

[5] SJHAI v. HLURB, et. al., docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 67844, id. at 234.

[6] SJHAI v. HLURB, et. al., docketed as G.R. No. 153980, id.

[7] Rollo, pp. 31-33.

[8] Id. at 233-235.

[9] Id. at 232-241. Per Curiam Decision signed by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Associate Justices Reynato S. Puno, Artemio V. Panganiban, Leonardo A. Quisumbing, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Antonio T. Carpio, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Renato C. Corona, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Romeo J. Callejo, Sr., Adolfo S. Azcuna, Dante O. Tinga, Minita V. Chico-Nazario and Cancio C. Garcia.

[10] Id. at 240.

[11] Zarate v. Judge Romanillos, supra note 3, at 692-693.

[12] In National Bureau of Investigation v. Judge Reyes, 332 Phil. 872, 886 (2000), respondent judge therein was found guilty of bribery. He was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service and further disbarred from the practke of law.

[13] Rollo, pp. 236-239.

[14] Id. at 243-259.

[15] Id. at 260.

[16] Id. at 337-338.

[17] Id. at 340.

[18] Id. at 341-343.

[19] Id. at 346-348.

[20] Id. at 345.

[21] Id. at 357.

[22] Id. at 364.

[23] Id. at 370-371.

[24] Id. at 372.

[25] Id. at 377.

[26] Id. at 383.

[27] Id. at 386-387.

[28] Id. at 388.

[29] Id. at 389

[30] Id. at 390.

[31] Id. at 391.

[32] Id. at 392.

[33] Id. at 393.

[34] Id. at 394.

[35] Id. at 395.

[36] Id. at 396.

[37] Id. at 397.

[38] Id. at 398.

[39] Id. at 399.

[40] Id. at 401.

[41] Id.; italics supplied.

[42] Id. at 402.

[43] Id. at 403.

[44] Id. at 404.

[45] Id. at 405.

[46] Id. at 407.

[47] Id. at 409.

[48] Id. at 410.

[49] Id. at 411.

[50] Id. at 412.

[51] Id. at 413-414.

[52] Id. at 415.

[53] Id. at 416-417.

[54] Id. at 418.

[55] Id. at 419.

[56] Id. at 420.

[57] Id.; italics supplied.

[58] Id. at 421.

[59] Id. at 422.

[60] Id. at 423.

[61] Id. at 424.

[62] Id. at 425.

[63] Id. at 426.

[64] Id. at 427.

[65] Id. at 428.

[66] Id. at 429.

[67] In the Matter of the IBP Membership Dues Delinquency of Atty. Edillion, 189 Phil. 468, 473 (1980).

[68] In the Matter of the Admission to the Bar of Argosino, 316 Phil. 43, 46 (1995), citing G.A. Malcolm, Legal and Judicial Ethics (1949), at p. 13; In re Parazo, 82 Phil. 230, 242 (1948), reiterated in Tan v. Sabandal, 283 Phil. 390; 399 (1992).

[69] Que v. Atty. Revilla, Jr., 746 Phil. 406, 413 (2014), citing Scholl v. Kentucky Bar Ass'n, 213 S.W. 3d 687 (Ky. 2007).

[70] Id.

[71] Re: Letter of Judge Augustus C. Diaz, MTC-QC, Br. 37, Appealing for Judicial Clemency, 560 Phil. 1, 5 (2007).

[72] Id.

[73] Id.

[74] Id.

[75] Id.

[76] Id. at 6.

[77] Id.

[78] Id.

[79] 558 Phil. 398 (2007).

[80] Id. at 401-402.

[81] 321 Phil. 556 (1995).

[82] Id. at 560.

[83] 579 Phil. 1 (2008).

[84] Id. at 11-12.

[85] Que v. Atty. Revilla, Jr., supra note 69, at 415.

[86] Rollo, p. 337, see also pp. 346-347, 352-353, 360-361.

[87] Id. at 401; italics supplied.

[88] Id. at 415.

[89] Id. at 420; italics supplied.

[90] Id. at 388.

[91] Id. at 403.

[92] Id. at 423.

[93] Id. at 428; italics supplied.

[94] Id. at 393.

[95] Id. at 387; italics supplied.

[96] Id. at 402; italics supplied.

[97] Id. at 404; italics supplied.

[98] Id. at 338, see also pp. 343, 347, 353, 361.

[99] Re: In the Matter of the Petition for Reinstatement of Rolando S. Torres as a member of the Philippine Bar, 767 Phil. 676, 686 (2015).

[100] Que v. Atty. Revilla, Jr., supra note 69, at 417; italics supplied.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Principle of constructive fulfillment, Article 1186 of the Civil Code

2018 Jun 20
G.R. No. 195999
3rd Division

LILY S. VILLAMIL, SUBSTITUTED BY HER HEIRS RUDY E. VILLAMIL, SOLOMON E. VILLAMIL, TEDDY E. VILLAMIL, JR., DEBORAH E. VILLAMIL, FLORENCE E. VILLAMIL, GENEVIEVE E. VILLAMIL, AND MARC ANTHONY E. VILLAMIL, PETITIONER, V. SPOUSES JUANITO ERGUIZA AND MILA ERGUIZA, RESPONDENTS.


D E C I S I O N

MARTIRES, J.:

This is a petition for review on certiorari seeking to reverse and set aside the Decision,[1] dated 29 June 2010, and Resolution,[2] dated 2 February 2011, of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 109813 which nullified the Decision,[3] dated 2 October 2008, of the Regional Trial Court, Dagupan City, Branch 44 (RTC), in Civil Case No. 2007-0014-D, an action for recovery of possession.

THE FACTS

On 6 February 2003, petitioner Lily Villamil (petitioner) filed a Complaint[4] for recovery of possession and damages against respondent-spouses Juanito and Mila Erguiza (respondent-spouses) before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Dagupan City. The complaint alleges, among others, the following:

x x x x

2. Plaintiff is the absolute and exclusive owner of that certain parcel ofland more particularly described as follows:

''A parcel of land (Lot 3371-C) of the subdivision plan (LRC) Psd-111002, being a portion of Lot 3371 Dagupan Cadastre, LRC Cad. Record No. 925, situated in the District of Pantal, City of Dagupan, Island of Luzon, x x x containing an area or one hundred ninety-one (191) square meters, more or less. Covered by Transfer Certificate Title No. 31225 with assessed value of P2,290.00 under Tax Declaration No. 221092."

A copy of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 31225 and Tax Declaration No. 221092 are hereto attached and marked as Annexes "A" and "B," respectively;

3. Previously, said parcel of land was covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 23988 registered under the names of plaintiff Corazon Villamil, Efren Villamil, Teddy Villamil, Florencio Villamil, Rodrigo Villamil, Nicasio Villamil, John Villamil, Marcelina Villamil and Feliciano Villamil, all related. Copy of Transfer Certificate of title No. 23988 is hereto attached as Annex "C";

4. On 20 September 1972, plaintiff together with her deceased sister, Corazon Villamil, and deceased brother, Teddy Villamil, entered into an agreement with Juanito Erguiza for the purpose of selling the above-described property to the latter subject to the condition that plaintiff and her siblings would file a petition to secure authorization for minor children from the proper courts. Likewise, that in case of failure of the plaintiff and her siblings to obtain said authority, the partial payment made by the defendant Juanito Erguiza shall be applied as rent for twenty (20) years of the premises. A copy of the agreement is hereto attached as Annex "D";

5. During the course of time, TCT No. 23988 was cancelled and TCT No. 30049 was issued by virtue of a quitclaim executed by Corazon Villamil and her children in favor of the plaintiff. Likewise, TCT No. 30049 was cancelled and TCT No. 31125 (Annex "A") was issued by virtue of a Deed of Sale executed by Efren Villamil and Teddy Villamil in favor of the plaintiff. Copies of TCT No. 30049 are hereto attached and marked as Annex "E";

6. Plaintiff has been paying religiously the real estate taxes due on said property;

7. Sometime in 1992 or after the lapse of twenty (20) years and the expiration of the twenty (20) years lease, plaintiff demanded from the defendants to return possession of the property but the latter failed and refused, and still fails (sic) and refuses (sic) to return possession of the property to the damage and prejudice of the plaintiff;

8. The continued occupation by the defendants of the property is by mere tolerance of the plaintiff and has been staying thereon without paying any rent to the plaintiff;

9. On 7 January 2002, plaintiff again demanded from the defendant[s] to return the possession of the property by way of a formal letter dated December 18, 2001 which was received by the defendant[s] on January 11, 2002. Notwithstanding receipt of said letter, defendants just ignored the valid pleas of the plaintiff; Annex "F";

10. A period of thirty (30) [days] had lapsed without the said agreement having been enforced, hence, the defendants have lost whatever rights they have under said agreement;

11. The matter was brought to the Office of the Barangay of Pantal District but no conciliation or settlement was reached between the parties hence, a certification to file action was issued by said office. A copy of the certification is hereto attached as Annex "G";

x x x x[5]

The Agreement, which petitioner and respondent-spouses entered into in the sale and purchase of the subject property, states:

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:

That we, CORAZON G. VILLAMIL, widow, LILY VILLAMIL, married and TEDDY S. VILLAMIL, married, all of legal ages, Filipinos and residents of Dagupan City, Philippines, for and in consideration of the sum two thousand six hundred fifty seven pesos (P2,657.00), Philippine currency, to us in hand paid and a receipt of which is hereby acknowledged of JUANITO ERGUIZA, married, of legal age, Filipino and a resident of Dagupan City, Philippines, BY THESE PRESENTS do hereby promise to sell absolutely unto the said Juanito Erguiza, his heirs or assigns, a parcel of land covered [by] Transfer Certificate of Title No. 23988 of the land records of Dagupan City, identified as Lot No. 2371, under the following terms and conditions:

That the total purchase price of the said land is FIVE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED FIFTY SEVEN PESOS P5,157.00. Because of us receiving today the sum of two thousand six hundred and fifty seven pesos (P2,657.00), there is still a balance of two thousand five hundred pesos (P2,500.00);

That because there is still lacking document or that court approval of the sale of the shares of the minor-owners of parts of this land, the final deed of absolute sale be made and executed upon issuance by the competent court; that the balance of P2,500.00 will also be given in this stage of execution of this document;

In the event however that the petition for the sale of the shares of the minor-owners of the parts of this land is [disapproved] by the court, the amount of P2,657.00 be considered as lease of the land subject matwr of this contract for a duration of twenty (20) years.

WITNESS OUR HANDS THIS 29th of September 1972 at Dagupan City, Philippines.[6]

On 26 May 2003, respondent-spouses filed their Answer,[7] which effectively denied the material allegations in petitioner's complaint and by way of special and affirmative defenses, aver that:

x x x x

5. That plaintiff has no cause of action.

6. The agreement between the co-heirs of plaintiff and defendants is for the sale on condition of the subject property. A sale even if conditional transfers ownership to the vendees. And before plaintiff could claim any right, there are certain proceedings which must first be complied [with]. Defendants did not violate any of the terms and conditions contained in the agreement to which plaintiff is trying to base her cause of action. It was plaintiff who made sure that the condition contained under the contract to sell will not be complied with. She caused the execution of documents to violate such rights and it was only now that defendants learned of the same;

7. That defendants never received a letter coming from the plaintiff regarding the subject property. As a matter of fact, defendants are trying to enforce the agreement although the conditions contained therein will be left to the sole will of the vendors:

8. That granting arguendo that the plaintiff has the right to damages, such could only be in the form of accrued rentals. x x x[8]

On 14 October 2004, the MTCC dismissed the complaint on the ground that the cause of action thereof was one for the interpretation of the agreement and the determination of the parties' respective rights. It reasoned that such action was incapable of pecuniary estimation and, therefore, jurisdiction lies with the RTC.[9]

On appeal, the RTC reversed the decision of the MTCC on the ground that the cause of action was one for recovery of possession of real property. Considering that the assessed value of the subject property is P2,290.00, the MTCC has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the case. Thus, the case was remanded to the MTCC.[10]

The MTCC Ruling

In its decision,[11] dated 15 November 2006, the MTCC ruled in favor of petitioner. It gave credence to petitioner's claim that she communicated to respondent-spouses the fact of consolidation of ownership in her name. The MTCC held that being an interested party in the collection of the remaining balance, petitioner would naturally have made respondent-spouses aware of the consolidation of ownership over the subject property. It declared that it was unbelievable that respondent-spouses did not exert any effort to inquire from petitioner about the status of their agreement. The MTCC concluded that respondent-spouses had no intention to pay the balance of the purchase price and that they had become lessees of the subject property for twenty (20) years with their down payment being treated as rentals. It ruled that after the lapse of the said period, respondent-spouses were bound to leave the premises. The fallo reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff as follows:

Ordering the defendants, their assigns, agents or other persons acting for themselves, to vacate the premises in question and to restore possession thereof to the plaintiff;

Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiff jointly and severally, the amount of P500.00 a month from date of demand which was on December 18, 2001, until they finally vacate the premises, as reasonable compensation for the use and occupation of the same;

Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiff, jointly and severally, the amount of P5,000.00 as attorney's fees and to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.[12]

Aggrieved, respondent-spouses elevated an appeal to the RTC.

The RTC Ruling

In its decision, the RTC affirmed the ruling of the MTCC. It opined that the condition with respect to judicial approval of the sale had become irrelevant when ownership over the subject property was consolidated in favor of petitioner in 1973; thus, at that time, respondent-spouses were bound to comply with their undertaking to pay the balance of the purchase price which they failed to do. The dispositive portion states:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered AFFIRMING the appealed decision with modification deleting the award of attorney's fees.

SO ORDERED.[13]

Unconvinced, respondent-spouses moved for reconsideration. However, in a Resolution,[14] dated 18 May 2009, the RTC denied the motion for lack of notice of hearing.

The CA Ruling

In its decision, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of the RTC. As to the procedural aspect, it observed that despite omission of the name of petitioner's counsel in the notice of hearing, petitioner appeared at the scheduled hearing and even filed her opposition to respondent-spouses' motion for reconsideration. The CA declared that the right of respondent-spouses to appeal should not be curtailed by the mere expediency of holding that there was lack of notice of hearing since the objective of Sections 4, 5, and 7 under Rule 15 of the Rules of Court to allow the adverse party the opportunity to oppose the motion has been clearly met in this case.

With respect to the substantive issue, the appellate court declared that the agreement between the parties was a contract to sell involving the subject property because the vendors reserved ownership and it was subject to a suspensive condition, i.e., submission of the sellers of lacking documents or court approval of the sale of the shares of the minor owners.

The CA did not acquiesce with the trial court's reasoning that respondent-spouses were already notified of the transfer of title in petitioner's name because such alleged notice was not supported by any evidence on record. It lends credence to respondent-spouses' evidence that they came to know of the fact that petitioner "was already the registered owner of the subject property when a written demand letter was sent to them by the former on 18 December 2001. The CA opined that respondent--spouses' passive and complacent position in not asserting from the sellers what was incumbent under the subject agreement should not be taken against the former. It stressed that the obligation to secure the necessary documents or approval of the court for the minor children to be represented in the Deed of Absolute Sale, was incumbent upon the sellers.

While the appellate court agreed with the lower courts' disquisition that the court's approval for the minor children to be represented in the sale would no longer be necessary as the ownership and title in the subject property were already consolidated to petitioner, it ruled that the same would not operate like a magic wand to automatically make respondent-spouses perform what was required of them in the subject agreement. On the contrary, the sellers had the positive duty to make known to the buyers that they were ready to comply with what was mandated upon them, which act petitioner failed to prove by any evidence. Thus, the CA concluded that respondent-spouses had more right to possess the subject property pending consummation of the agreement or any outcome thereof. The CA disposed of the case in this wise:

WHEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing premises, the instant petition is perforce GRANTED. Accordingly, the Decision dated October 02, 2008 and Resolution dated May 18, 2009 are perforce reversed and set aside. Thus, petitioners Erguiza shall remain in actual and peaceful possession of the subject property.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.[15]

Petitioner moved for reconsideration but the CA denied the same in its 2 February 2011 resolution. Hence, this petition.

ISSUES

Petitioner submits the following assignment of errors:

I.

WHETHER OR NOT THE 2 OCTOBER 2008 DECISION OF RTC, BRANCH 44, AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF MTCC, BRANCH 3, DATED 15 NOVEMBER 2006 HAS BECOME FINAL AND EXECUTORY AFTER RESPONDENTS FILED A DEFECTIVE MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION WHICH DID NOT TOLL THE RUNNING OF THE REGLEMENTARY PERIOD TO FILE A PETITION FOR REVIEW; AND WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION WHEN IT GAVE DUE COURSE TO THE PETITION.

II.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION WHEN IT REVERSED THE DECISION OF RTC, BRANCH 44, AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF MTCC, BRANCH 3, WHICH RULED THAT PETITIONER HAD A BETTER RIGHT TO POSSESS THE PROPERTY AFTER PETITIONERS FAILED TO PAY THE BALANCE OF THE PURCHASE PRICE AND THE SECOND CONDITION HAD SET IN, THAT IS, THE DOWN PAYMENT WAS APPLIED AS RENTALS FOR TWENTY (20) YEARS FROM 1972 TO 1992.[16]

Petitioner argues: that the RTC decision has actually become final and executory after respondent-spouses filed a defective motion for reconsideration which did not toll the running of the reglementary period to appeal the decision before the CA; that the motion for reconsideration was a mere scrap of paper as it did not contain notice of the time and place of hearing; that respondent-spouses knew that petitioner was the owner of the subject property because they sought her permission to build their house thereon; and that it is contrary to human experience that, being interested persons, respondent-spouses would not inquire about the status of the subject property.[17]

In their Comment,[18] respondent-spouses contend that they complied with the provision of the Rules of Court as regards notice of hearing such that on the day the motion for reconsideration was to be heard, petitioner was present and she even filed her opposition to the motion; that while the notice of hearing was only addressed to the Branch Clerk of Court, petitioner was furnished with a copy of the motion for reconsideration; that petitioner and her siblings did not take steps to fulfil the suspensive condition; that they made an illegal act of transferring the share of the minors in the name of petitioner; that petitioner only informed them of the consolidation of ownership when they received a demand letter on 18 December 2001 and when they were summoned to appear before the office of the Barangay Captain sometime in April 2002; and that if petitioner had the slightest intention of informing them of her ownership of the subject property and for them to pay the remaining balance, she should have done so immediately upon the transfer of the title in her name.

In her Reply,[19] petitioner avers that upon seeing the minor owners reach the age of majority, it would be logical for respondent-spouses to follow up with her and her co-owners since court approval was no longer necessary; that notwithstanding this information, respondent-spouses did not pay the balance of the consideration; and that being an interested party in the collection of the remaining balance, it is more in accord with human experience that she would have informed respondent-spouses about the consolidation of ownership in her name.

THE COURT'S RULING

Petitioner had the opportunity to be heard despite the lack of notice of hearing.

Sections 4 and 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court provide that:

Sec. 4. Hearing of motion. - Except for motions which the court may act upon without prejudicing the rights of the adverse party, every written motion shall be set for hearing by the applicant.

Every written motion required to be heard and the notice of the hearing thereof shall be served in such a manner as to ensure its receipt by the other party at least three (3) days before the date of hearing, unless the court for good cause sets the hearing on shorter notice.

Sec. 5. Notice of hearing. The notice of hearing shall be addressed to all parties concerned, and shall specify the time and date of the hearing which must not be later than ten (10) days after the filing of the motion.

The general rule is that the three-day notice requirement in motions under Sections 4 and 5 of the Rules of Court is mandatory. It is an integral component of procedural due process.[20] "The purpose of the three-day notice requirement, which was established not for the benefit of the movant but rather for the adverse party, is to avoid surprises upon the latter and to grant it sufficient time to study the motion and to enable it to meet the arguments interposed therein."[21]

"A motion that does not comply with the requirements of Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court is a worthless piece of paper which the clerk of court has no right to receive and which the court has no authority to act upon."[22] "Being a fatal defect, in cases of motions to reconsider a decision, the running of the period to appeal is not tolled by their filing or pendency."[23]

Nevertheless, the three-day notice requirement is not a hard and fast rule. When the adverse party had been afforded the opportunity to be heard, and has been indeed heard through the pleadings filed in opposition to the motion, the purpose behind the three-day notice requirement is deemed served. In such case, the requirements of procedural due process are substantially complied with. Thus, in Preysler, Jr. v. Manila Southcoast Development Corporation,[24] the Court ruled that:

The three-day notice rule is not absolute. A liberal construction of the procedural rules is proper where the lapse in the literal observance of a rule of procedure has not prejudiced the adverse party and has not deprived the court of its authority. Indeed, Section 6, Rule I of the Rules of Court provides that the Rules should be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding. Rules of procedure are tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice, and courts must avoid their strict and rigid application which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice.[25]

Likewise, in Jehan Shipping Corporation v. National Food Authority,[26] the Court held that despite the lack of notice of hearing in a motion for reconsideration, there was substantial compliance with the requirements of due process where the adverse party actually had the opportunity to be heard and had filed pleadings in opposition to the motion. The Court declared:

This Court has indeed held time and again, that under Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court, mandatory is the notice requirement in a motion, which is rendered defective by failure to comply with the requirement. As a rule, a motion without a notice of hearing is considered pro forma and does not affect the reglementary period for the appeal or the filing of the requisite pleading.

As an integral component of procedural due process, the three-day notice required by the Rules is not intended for the benefit of the movant. Rather, the requirement is for the purpose of avoiding surprises that may be sprung upon the adverse party, who must be given time to study and meet the arguments in the motion before a resolution by the court. Principles of natural justice demand that the right of a party should not be affected without giving it an opportunity to be heard.

The test is the presence of opportunity to be heard, as well as to have time to study the motion and meaningfully oppose or controvert the grounds upon which it is based. x x x[27]

A perusal of the records reveals that the trial court gave petitioner ten days within which to comment on private respondents' motion for reconsideration.[28] Petitioner filed its Opposition the Motion on 7 January 2009, and in fact, filed a Motion for Entry of Judgment.[29] Thus, it cannot be gainsaid that petitioner was not given her day in court as she in fact contested private respondents' motion for reconsideration. While it is true that the name of petitioner's counsel was not indicated in the notice of hearing, nonetheless, she was furnished a copy thereof which she received before the date of the scheduled hearing. The requirement of notice of time and hearing in the pleading filed by a party is necessary only to apprise the other party of the actions of the former.[30] Under the circumstances of the present case, the purpose of a notice of hearing was served. Hence, the Court finds no reversible error committed by the CA in ruling that the motion for reconsideration was not pro forma.

Parties entered into a contract to sell

A contract to sell is defined as a bilateral contract whereby the prospective seller, while expressly reserving the ownership of the subject property despite delivery thereof to the prospective buyer, binds himself to sell the said property exclusively to the latter upon his fulfillment of the conditions agreed upon, i.e., the full payment of the purchase price and/or compliance with the other obligations stated in the contract to sell. Given its contingent nature, the failure of the prospective buyer to make full payment and/or abide by his commitments stated in the contract to sell prevents the obligation of the prospective seller to execute the corresponding deed of sale to effect the transfer of ownership to the buyer from arising.[31] A contract to sell is akin to a conditional sale where the efficacy or obligatory force of the vendor's obligation to transfer title is subordinated to the happening of a future and uncertain event, so that if the suspensive condition does not take place, the parties would stand as if the conditional obligation had never existed.[32] In a contract to sell, the fulfillment of the suspensive condition will not automatically transfer ownership to the buyer although the property may have been previously delivered to him. The prospective seller still has to convey title to the prospective buyer by entering into a contract of absolute sale.[33] On the other hand, in a conditional contract of sale, the fulfillment of the suspensive condition renders the sale absolute and the previous delivery of the property has the effect of automatically transferring the seller's ownership or title to the property to the buyer.[34]

In Coronel v. Court of Appeals,[35] the Court declared:

The Civil Code defines a contract of sale, thus:

Art. 1458. By the contract of sale one of the contracting parties obligates himself to transfer the ownership of and to deliver a determinate thing, and the other to pay therefor a price certain in money or its equivalent.

Sale, by its very nature, is a consensual contract because it is perfected by mere consent. The essential elements of a contract of sale are the following:

a) Consent or meeting of the minds, that is, consent to transfer ownership in exchange for the price;
b) Determinate subject matter; and
c) Price certain in money or its equivalent.

Under this definition, a Contract to Sell may not be considered as a Contract of Sale because the first essential element is lacking. In a contract to sell, the prospective seller explicity reserves the transfer of title to the prospective buyer, meaning, the prospective seller does not as yet agree or consent to transfer ownership of the property subject of the contract to sell until the happening of an event, which for present purposes we shall take as the full payment of the purchase price. What the seller agrees or obliges himself to do is to fulfill his promise to sell the subject property when the entire amount of the purchase price is delivered to him. In other words the full payment of the purchase price partakes of a suspensive condition, the non-fulfillment of which prevents the obligation to sell from arising and thus, ownership is retained by the prospective seller without further remedies by the prospective buyer. In Roque vs. Lapuz, this Court had occasion to rule:

Hence, We hold that the contract between the petitioner and the respondent was a contract to sell where the ownership or title is retained by the seller and is not to pass until the full payment of the price, such payment being a positive suspensive condition and failure of which is not a breach, casual or serious, but simply an event that prevented the obligation of the vendor to convey title from acquiring binding force.

Stated positively, upon the fulfillment of the suspensive condition which is the full payment of the purchase price, the prospective seller's obligation to sell the subject property by entering into a contract of sale with the prospective buyer becomes demandable as provided in Article 1479 of the Civil Code which states:

Art. 1479. A promise to buy and sell a determinate thing for a price certain is reciprocally demandable.

An accepted unilateral promise to buy or to sell a determinate thing for a price certain is binding upon the promisor if the promise is supported by a consideration distinct from the price.[36]

In this case, the parties entered into an agreement with the following terms and conditions:

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:

That we, CORAZON G. VILLAMIL, widow, LILY VILLAMIL, married and TEDDY S. VILLAMIL, married, all of legal ages, Filipinos and residents of Dagupan City, Philippines, for and in consideration of the sum two thousand six hundred fifty seven pesos (P2,657.00), Philippine currency, to us in hand paid and a receipt of which is hereby acknowledged of JUANITO ERGUIZA, married, of legal age, Filipino and a resident of Dagupan City, Philippines, BY THESE PRESENTS do hereby promise to sell absolutely unto the said Juanito Erguiza, his heirs or assigns, a parcel of land covered [by] Transfer Certificate of Title No. 23988 of the land records of Dagupan City, identified as Lot No. 2371, under the following terms and conditions:

6. That the total purchase price of the said land is FIVE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED FIFTY SEVEN PESOS P5,157.00. Because of us receiving today the sum of two thousand six hundred and fifty seven pesos (P2,657.00), there is still a balance of two thousand five hundred pesos (P2,500.00);

7. That because there is still lacking document or that court approval of the sale of the shares of the minor-owners of parts of this land, the final deed of absolute sale he made and executed upon issuance by the competent court; that the balance of P2,500.00 will also be given in this stage of execution of this document;

8. In the event however that the petition for the sale of the shares of the minor-owners of the parts of this land is [disapproved] by the court, the amount of P2,657.00 be considered as lease of the land subject matter of this contract for a duration of twenty (20) years.

WITNESS OUR HANDS THIS 29th of September 1972 at Dagupan City, Philippines.[37] (emphases supplied)

An examination of the agreement would reveal that the parties entered into a contract to sell the subject property. First, petitioner and her siblings who were then co-owners merely promised to sell the subject property, thus, signifying their intention to reserve ownership. Second, the execution of a deed of absolute sale was made dependent upon the proper court's approval of the sale of the shares of the minor owners. Third, the agreement between the parties was not embodied in a deed of sale. The absence of a formal deed of conveyance is a strong indication that the parties did not intend immediate transfer of ownership.[38] Fourth, petitioner retained possession of the certificate of title of the lot. This is an additional indication that the agreement did not transfer to private respondents, either by actual or constructive delivery, ownership of the property.[39] Finally, respondent Juanito admitted during trial that they have not finalized the sale in 1972 because there were minor owners[40] such that when they constructed their house thereon, they sought the permission of petitioner.[41]

Now, the next question to be resolved is whether the suspensive condition, i.e., judicial approval of the sale of the minor owners' shares, upon which the obligation of the sellers to execute a deed of sale depends, is fulfilled.

Principle of constructive fulfillment applies

Article 1186 of the Civil Code reads:

Article 1186. The condition shall be deemed fulfilled when the obligor voluntarily prevents its fulfillment.

This provision refers to the constructive fulfillment of a suspensive condition, whose application calls for two requisites, namely: (a) the intent of the obligor to prevent the fulfillment of the condition, and (b) the actual prevention of the fulfillment. Mere intention of the debtor to prevent the happening of the condition, or to place ineffective obstacles to its compliance, without actually preventing the fulfillment, is insufficient.[42]

Petitioner and her then co-owners undertook, upon receipt of the down payment from respondent-spouses, the filing of a petition in court, after which they promised the latter to execute the deed of absolute sale whereupon the latter shall, in turn, pay the entire balance of the purchase price. The balance of the consideration shall be paid only upon grant of the court's approval and upon execution of the deed of absolute sale.

Here, there is no doubt that petitioner prevented the fulfillment of the suspensive condition. She herself admitted that they did not file any petition to seek approval of the court as regards the sale of the shares of the minor owners.[43] In addition, the other co-owners sold their shares to petitioner such that she was able to consolidate the title in her name.[44] Thus, the condition is deemed constructively fulfilled, as the intent to prevent fulfillment of the condition and actual prevention thereof were definitely present. Consequently, it was incumbent upon the sellers to enter into a contract with respondent-spouses for the purchase of the subject property.

Respondent-spouses' obligation to pay the balance of the purchase price arises only when the court's approval of the sale of the minor owners' shares shall have been successfully secured, in accordance with Article 1181 of the New Civil Code.[45] Judicial approval is a condition the operative act of which sets into motion the period of compliance by respondent-spouses of their own obligation, i.e., to pay the balance of the purchase price. Accordingly, an obligation dependent upon a suspensive condition cannot be demanded until after the condition takes place because it is only after the fulfillment of the condition that the obligation arises.[46] Petitioner cannot invoke the non-fulfillment of the condition in the contract to sell when she and her then co-owners themselves are guilty of preventing the fulfillment of such condition. When it has become evident that the condition would no longer be fulfilled, it was incumbent upon petitioner to inform respondent--spouses of such circumstance because the choice whether to waive the condition or continue with the agreement clearly belongs to the latter. Petitioner's claim that respondent-spouses should have known that the condition would no longer be necessary because the latter knew that the minor owners had already reached the age of majority and that they should have been more proactive in following up the status of the contract to sell, deserves scant consideration. While petitioner may have been right in the aforementioned instances, the same will not negate her obligation to inform respondent-spouses of the non-fulfillment of the condition especially in view of the fact that it was her fault that the condition became irrelevant and unnecessary.

Who has better right of possession?

Inasmuch as petitioner has not yet complied with her obligation to execute a deed of sale after the condition has been deemed fulfilled, respondent-spouses are still entitled to possess the subject property. Petitioner cannot anchor her claim on the supposed conversion of their agreement from a contract to sell into a contract of lease as provided in the third paragraph of the agreement which provides that should the court disapprove the sale of the shares of the minor owners, the down payment would be treated as rentals for twenty (20) years. The agreement, however, could not have been converted into a contract of lease for the simple reason that there was no petition filed before any court seeking the approval of the sale as regards the shares of the minor owners. Hence, the court did not have any occasion to approve much less disapprove the sale of such shares. As a result, there was no reason for the contract to sell to be converted into a contract of lease.

Respondent-spouses did not become lessees. They remained to be prospective buyers of the subject property who, up to now, are awaiting fulfillment of the obligation of the prospective sellers to execute a deed of sale. Hence, inasmuch as the sellers allowed them to have the subject property in their possession pending the execution of a deed of sale, respondent-spouses are entitled to possession pending the outcome of the contract to sell.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision, dated 29 June 2010, and Resolution, dated 2 February 2011, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 109813 are AFFIRMED. The Entry of Judgment in Civil Case No. 2007-0014-D is hereby LIFTED.

SO ORDERED.

Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Leonen, and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.
Bersamin, J., on official leave.

August 10, 2018

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on June 20, 2018 a Decision, copy attached hereto, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on August 10, 2018 at 1:19 p.m.

Very truly yours,
(SGD.) WILFREDO V. LAPITAN
Division Clerk of Court

[1] Rollo, pp. 35-52; penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes (retired member of this Court) with Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe (now member of this Court) and Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybañez, concurring.

[2] Id. at 54-55.

[3] Id. at 89-94; penned by Judge Genoveva Coching Maramba.

[4] Records, pp 1-3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 8.

[7] Id. at 27-29.

[8] Id. at 27-28.

[9] Rollo, pp. 76-80.

[10] Id. at 81-82.

[11] Id. at 83-88; penned by Acting Presiding Judge Edgardo M. Caldona.

[12] Id. at 88.

[13] Id. at 94.

[14] Id. at 102-104.

[15] Id. at 51.

[16] Id. at 18; petition for review on certiorari.

[17] Id. at 13-28.

[18] Id. at 144-154.

[19] Id. at 162-170.

[20] Jehan Shipping Corporation v. National Food Authority, 514 Phil. 166, 173 (2005).

[21] United Pulp and Paper Co. Inc. v. Acropolis Central Guaranty Corporation, 680 Phil. 64, 79 (2012).

[22] Pallada v. RTC of Kalibo, Aklan, Br. I, 364 Phil. 81, 89 ( 1999).

[23] Nuñez v. GSIS Family Bank, 511 Phil. 735, 747-748 (2005).

[24] 635 Phil. 598 (2010).

[25] Id. at 604.

[26] Supra note 20.

[27] Id. at 173-174

[28] Records, p. 442.

[29] Id. at 445-447

[30] CMH Agricultural Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 428 Phil. 610, 621-622 (2002).

[31] Ventura, et al. v. Heirs of Spouses Endaya, 718 Phil. 620, 630 (2013).

[32] Sps. Serrano and Herrera v. Caguiat, 545 Phil. 660, 667 (2007).

[33] Coronel v. CA, 331 Phil. 294 , 310-311 (1996).

[34] Id. at 311.

[35] Id.

[36] Id. at 309-310.

[37] Records, p. 8.

[38] Chua v. Court of Appeals, 449 Phil. 25, 42 (2003).

[39] Id. at 43.

[40] Records, p. 236.

[41] Id. at 247.

[42] International Hotel Corporation v. Joaquin, Jr. and Suarez, 708 Phil. 361, 373 (2013).

[43] Records, p. 258.

[44] Id.

[45] Art. 1181. In conditional obligations, the acquisition of rights, as well as the extinguishment or loss of those already acquired, shall depend upon the happening of the event which constitutes the condition.

[46] Catungal, et al. v. Rodriguez, 661 Phil. 484, 508 (2011).

Guidelines for the procedure for actions seeking (1) modification of penalties; and (2) immediate release of convict based on RA No. 10951

2018 Jul 31
G.R. No. 237721
En Banc

IN RE: CORRECTION/ADJUSTMENT OF PENALTY PURSUANT TO REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10951, IN RELATION TO HERNAN V. SANDIGANBAYAN – ROLANDO ELBANBUENA Y MARFIL, PETITIONER.


D E C I S I O N

JARDELEZA, J.:

This is a petition[1] praying for the release of petitioner Rolando M. Elbanbuena (Elbanbuena) pursuant to the provisions of Republic Act (RA) No. 10951[2] and this Court's ruling in Hernan v. Sandiganbayan.[3]

Petitioner Elbanbuena worked as a Disbursing Officer of Alingilan National High School in Alingilan, Bacolod. He was charged with four counts of malversation of public funds through falsification of a public document under Articles 217 and 171 in relation to Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). After trial, Elbanbuena was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes charged in the Information.[4] The dispositive portion of the Decision states:

WHEREFORE, the accused is hereby found guilty of the complex crime of Malversation of Public Funds through falsification of public or commercial documents in Criminal Cases Nos. 95-17264, 95-17265, and 95-17266 and for Malversation of Public Funds in Criminal Case No. 95-17263, and the accused is hereby sentenced as follows:

1) To suffer imprisonment in Criminal Cases Nos. 95- 17264, 95-17265, 95-17266, from prision mayor maximum or ten (10) years one (1) day to twelve (12) years to reclusion temporal maximum or seventeen (17) years four (4) months and one (1) day to twenty (20) years; in three (3) counts;

2) To suffer imprisonment in Criminal Case No. 95- 17263 of prision mayor medium or eight years one (1) day to ten (10) years to reclusion temporal minimum or twelve (12) years one (1) day to fourteen (14) years and eight (8) months; and

3) To suffer civil interdiction and absolute disqualification during the period of the sentence.

SO ORDERED.[5]

Since Elbanbuena did not appeal the ruling, it became final and executory on August 10, 2000.[6] On January 9, 2003, Elbanbuena started serving his sentence at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.[7]

On August 29, 2017, RA No. 10951 was promulgated. It amended Act No. 3815, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code, and reduced the penalties for certain crimes. Pertinently, Section 40 of RA No. 10951 provides:

Sec. 40. Article 217 of the same Act, as amended by Republic Act No. 1060, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

Art. 217. Malversation of public funds or property. – Presumption of malversation. – Any public officer who, by reason of the duties of his office, is accountable for public funds or property, shall appropriate the same, or shall take or misappropriate or shall consent, through abandonment or negligence, shall permit any other person to take such public funds or property, wholly or partially, or shall otherwise be guilty of the misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property, shall suffer:

1. The penalty of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, if the amount involved in the misappropriation or malversation does not exceed Forty thousand pesos (P40,000).

2. The penalty of prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods, if the amount involved is more than Forty thousand pesos (P40,000) but does not exceed One million two hundred thousand pesos (P1,200,000).

3. The penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period to reclusion temporal in its minimum period, if the amount involved is more than One million two hundred thousand pesos (P1,200,000) but does not exceed Two million four hundred thousand pesos (P2,400,000).

4. The penalty of reclusion temporal, in its medium and maximum periods, if the amount involved is more than Two million four hundred thousand pesos (P2,400,000) but does not exceed Four million four hundred thousand pesos (P4,400,000).

5. The penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period, if the amount involved is more than Four million four hundred thousand pesos (P4,400,000) but does not exceed Eight million eight hundred thousand pesos (P8,800,000). If the amount exceeds the latter, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua.

In all cases, persons guilty of malversation shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual special disqualification and a fine equal to the amount of the funds malversed or equal to the total value of the property embezzled.

The failure of a public officer to have duly forthcoming any public funds or property with which is chargeable, upon demand by any duly authorized officer, shall be prima facie evidence that he has put such missing funds or property to personal uses. (Emphasis supplied.)

On December 5, 2017, this Court issued its ruling in Hernan v. Sandiganbayan.[8] There, the Court held:

The general rule is that a judgment 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 or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land. When, however, circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable, the Court may sit en banc and give due regard to such exceptional circumstance warranting the relaxation of the doctrine of immutability. The same is in line with Section 3(c), Rule II of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, which provides that cases raising novel questions of law are acted upon by the Court en banc. To the Court, the recent passage of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10951 x x x which accordingly reduced the penalty applicable to the crime charged herein is an example of such exceptional circumstance. x x x

x x x x

Pursuant to the aforequoted provision, therefore, We have here a novel situation wherein the judgment convicting the accused, petitioner herein, has already become final and executory and yet the penalty imposed thereon has been reduced by virtue of the passage of said law. x x x

Thus, in order to effectively avoid any injustice that petitioner may suffer as well as a possible multiplicity of suits arising therefrom, the Court deems it proper to reopen the instant case and recall the Entry of Judgment dated June 26, 2013 of the Sandiganbayan, x x x.

On a final note, judges, public prosecutors, public attorneys, private counsels, and such other officers of the law are hereby advised to similarly apply the provisions of RA No. 10951 whenever it is, by reason of justice and equity, called for by the facts of each case. Hence, said recent legislation shall find application in cases where the imposable penalties of the affected crimes such as theft, qualified theft, estafa, robbery with force upon things, malicious mischief, malversation, and such other crimes, the penalty of which is dependent upon the value of the object in consideration thereof, have been reduced, as in the case at hand, taking into consideration the presence of existing circumstances attending its commission. For as long as it is favorable to the accused, said recent legislation shall find application regardless of whether its effectivity comes after the time when the judgment of conviction is rendered and even if service of sentence has already begun. The accused, in these applicable instances, shall be entitled to the benefits of the new law warranting him to serve a lesser sentence, or to his release, if he has already begun serving his previous sentence, and said service already accomplishes the term of the modified sentence. In the latter case, moreover, the Court, in the interest of justice and expediency, further directs the appropriate filing of an action before the Court that seeks the reopening of the case rather than an original petition filed for a similar purpose.

Indeed, when exceptional circumstances exist, such as the passage of the instant amendatory law imposing penalties more lenient and favorable to the accused, the Court shall not hesitate to direct the reopening of a final and immutable judgment, the objective of which is to correct not so much the findings of guilt but the applicable penalties to be imposed.[9] (Emphasis supplied; citations omitted.)

Hence, this petition which seeks, among others, the modification, in conformity with RA No. 10951, of the Decision[10] dated July 5, 2000 rendered by Branch 41 of the Regional Trial Court of Bacolod City and, pursuant thereto, Elbanbuena's immediate release from confinement.

In a Resolution[11] dated April3, 2018, this Court required the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to comment on the petition (and its consolidated cases) and recommend guidelines relative thereto and similar petitions.

On July 4, 2018, the OSG filed its consolidated comment wherein it agreed that petitioners may invoke RA No. 10951 to seek a modification/reduction of the penalties for some of the crimes for which they are presently serving sentence. The OSG, however, took the position that Elbanbuena (and the other petitioners similarly situated) may not be immediately released at this point:

12. x x x While R.A. No. 10951 did reduce the imposable penalties for petitioners' crimes under the RPC, the reduced penalties to be actually imposed for these crimes have yet to be fixed by a court of competent jurisdiction.

13. The determination of whether petitioners are now entitled to be released requires that the court exercising jurisdiction over this petition first: (a) fix the new penalties for the crimes for which petitioners are presently serving sentence, as provided under R.A. No. 10951; and, thereafter (b) ascertain whether petitioners have indeed fully served their respective sentences based on such new penalties. Both have yet to be made.[12] (Italics in the original.)

As held by this Court in Hernan v. Sandiganbayan, the passage of RA No. 10951 is an exceptional circumstance which warrants not only the re-opening of an already terminated case, but also the recall of an Entry of Judgment for purposes of modifying the penalty to be served. Thus, in Hernan, this Court re-opened the case for the sole purpose of re-computing the proper sentence to be imposed in accordance with RA No. 10951. In contrast, petitioner Elbanbuena here seeks not only a modification of his sentence in accordance with RA No. 10951; he also seeks immediate release from confinement on account of his alleged full service of the re-computed sentence. The determination of whether he is entitled to immediate release, however, would necessarily involve ascertaining, among others, the actual length of time Elbanbuena has actually been in confinement and whether time allowance for good conduct should be allowed. Such an exercise would, at the first instance, be better undertaken by a trial court, which is relatively more equipped to make findings of both fact and law.

However, and especially in view of the anticipated influx of similar petitions,[13] the Court, in the interest of justice and efficiency, resolves to issue the following guidelines:[14]

I. Scope.

These guidelines shall govern the procedure for actions seeking (1) the modification, based on the amendments introduced by RA No. 10951, of penalties imposed by final judgments; and, (2) the immediate release of the petitioner-convict on account of full service of the penalty/penalties, as modified.

II. Who may file.

The Public Attorney's Office, the concerned inmate, or his/her counsel/representative, may file the petition.

III. Where to file.

The petition shall be filed with the Regional Trial Court exercising territorial jurisdiction over the locality where the petitioner-convict is confined. The case shall be raffled and referred to the branch to which it is assigned within three (3) days from the filing of the petition.

IV. Pleadings.

(A) Pleadings allowed. - The only pleadings allowed to be filed are the petition and the comment from the OSG. No motions for extension of time, or other dilatory motions for postponement, shall be allowed. The petition must contain a certified true copy of the Decision sought to be modified and, where applicable, the mittimus and/or a certification from the Bureau of Corrections as to the length of the sentence already served by petitioner-convict.

(B) Verification.- The petition must be in writing and verified by the petitioner-convict himself.

V. Comment by the OSG.

Within ten (10) days from notice, the OSG shall file its comment to the petition.

VI. Effect of failure to file comment.

Should the OSG fail to file the comment within the period provided, the court, motu proprio, or upon motion of the petitioner-convict, shall render judgment as may be warranted.

VII. Judgment of the court.

To avoid any prolonged imprisonment, the court shall promulgate judgment no later than ten (10) calendar days after the lapse of the period to file comment. The judgment shall set forth the following:

a. The penalty/penalties imposable in accordance with RA No. 10951;

b. Where proper, the length of time the petitioner-convict has been in confinement (and whether time allowance for good conduct should be allowed); and

c. Whether the petitioner-convict is entitled to immediate release due to complete service of his sentence/s, as modified in accordance with RA No. 10951.

The judgment of the court shall be immediately executory, without prejudice to the filing before the Supreme Court of a special civil action under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court where there is showing of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

VIII. Applicability of the regular rules.

The Rules of Court shall apply to the special cases herein provided in a suppletory capacity insofar as they are not inconsistent therewith.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated July 5, 2000 in Criminal Cases Nos. 95-17263, 95-17264, 95-17265, and 95-17266 is hereby REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City for the determination of: (1) the proper penalty/penalties in accordance with RA No. 10951; and (2) whether petitioner ROLANDO ELBANBUENA y MARFIL is entitled to immediate release on account of full service of his sentences, as modified.

Let copies of this Decision also be furnished to the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to the First and Second Level courts, and also to the Presiding Justices of the appellate courts, the Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General, Public Attorney's Office, Prosecutor General's Office, the Directors of the National Penitentiary and Correctional Institution for Women, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for their information, guidance, and appropriate action.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio,[*] Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Martires, Tijam, Reyes, Jr., and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on July 31, 2018 a Decision, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on August 16, 2018 at 3:00 p.m.

Very truly yours,

(SGD.) EDGAR O. ARICHETA
Clerk of Court

[*] Senior Associate Justice, Per Section 12, Republic Act No. 296, The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended.

[1] Rollo, pp. 3-20.

[2] An Act Adjusting the Amount or the Value of Property and Damage on Which a Penalty is Based, and the Fines Imposed Under the Revised Penal Code, Amending for the Purpose Act No. 3815, Otherwise Known as "The Revised Penal Code," as Amended.

[3] G.R. No. 217874, December 5, 2017.

[4] On October 15, 1993, and by virtue of his office, Elbanbuena received Land Bank Check No. 8617487 in the amount of P29,000.00, intended for deposit in the school's Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) account. He, however, failed to deposit said check.

On October 18, 1993, Elbanbuena received two (2) Land Bank Check Nos. 8617490 and 8617425 in the amount of P100.00 and P595.00, respectively. However, he falsified the amounts stated in the checks, making it appear that the checks were issued in the amounts of P38,100.00 and P24,595.00, respectively. He encashed the checks against the MOOE Fund account in Land Bank and misappropriated the same for his own personal use.

On October 20, 1993, Elbanbuena received Land Bank Check No. 8617486 in the amount of P8,350.24. Once again, he falsified the amount in the check by changing the amount in words and figures to P98,350.24. He encashed the check against the MOOE Fund account in Land Bank and misappropriated the amount of P98,350.24 for his own personal use. Rollo, pp. 28-32.

[5] Id. at 32.

[6] Id. at 33.

[7] Id. at 25.

[8] Supra note 3.

[9] Id.

[10] Rollo, pp. 27-32.

[11] Id. at 34-37.

[12] OSG consolidated comment, p. 6.

[13] See list submitted by the Deputy Director General for Operations of the Bureau of Corrections pursuant to the Court's order in Hernan v. Sandiganbayan. (Rollo, pp. 21-24.)

[14] Pursuant to this Court's power under Section 5(5) of Article VIII of the Constitution which provides:

Sec. 5(5). Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the Integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.