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Executive policy is beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court

A barangay captain filed a petition and sought injunction to enjoin a government agency from constructing a road extension affecting his barangay. The Supreme Court ruled that the “determination of where, as between two possible routes, to construct a road extension is obviously not within the province of this Court. Such determination belongs to the Executive branch. Moreover, in this case the DPWH still has to conduct the proper study to determine whether a road can be safely constructed on land beneath which runs the aqueducts. Without such study, the MWSS, which owns the land, cannot decide whether to allow the DPWH to construct the road. Absent such DPWH study and MWSS decision, no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction can be alleged against or attributed to respondents warranting the exercise of this Court’s extraordinary certiorari power.”

Torrecampo v. MWSS, G.R. No. 188296, May 30, 2011

Ownership is not an issue in a reconstitution proceeding

The trial court nullified a decision reconstituting eleven transfer certificates of title after copies thereof were presented by the buyer of the properties. The registered owner questioned the nullification on the ground that it in effect vests ownership to the possessors of the certificates of titles. In sustaining the trial court, the Supreme Court ruled: “the trial court does not have jurisdiction to declare respondents as the “new owners” of the properties because this is not an issue in a petition for relief from judgment. In Strait Times, Inc. v. Court of Appeals [356 Phil. 217 (1998)] we stated: ‘It is judicially settled that a trial court does not acquire jurisdiction over a petition for the issuance of a new owner’s duplicate certificate of title, if the original is in fact not lost but is in the possession of an alleged buyer.Corollarily, such reconstituted certificate is itself void once the existence of the original is unquestionably demonstrated. Nonetheless, the nullity of the reconstituted certificate does not by itself settle the issue of ownership or title over the property; much less does it vest such title upon the holder of the original certificate. The issue of ownership must be litigated in appropriate proceedings. It cannot be determined in an action for the issuance of a new owner’s duplicate certificate of title or in proceedings to annul such newly issued duplicate.'”

In this case, respondents’ possession of the eleven TCTs is not necessarily equivalent to ownership of the lands covered by the TCTs. The certificate of title, by itself, does not vest ownership; it is merely an evidence of title over a particular property. Again, the issue of ownership of the eleven properties must be litigated in the appropriate proceedings.”

Espino v. Bulut, G.R. No. 183811, May 30, 2011

Fax notice sufficient in an administrative proceeding

A national government agency requires the filing with its regional office, within 72 hours, of a notice of its application for mineral exploration. The applicant complied by sending fax copies of the application to the regional office. A claimant asserting priority opposed on the ground that fax copies are insufficient to prove compliance.
In sustaining the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled:
“Newmont in fact furnished the MGB-CAR Regional Office with copies of its FTAA applications, through fax transmission, within 72 hours from filing of the FTAA applications. Considering the distance between Quezon City and Baguio City where the MGB-CAR Regional Office is located, and the requirement to furnish the proper Regional Office (some of which are located in Visayas and Mindanao) a copy of the FTAA application within a short period of 72 hours, a fax machine copy is a reasonable and sufficient mode of serving a copy of the FTAA application to the proper Regional Office. We note that Section 8 of DAO 63 does not specify how a copy of the FTAA application should be furnished to the proper Regional Office.
“Newmont clearly satisfied the requirements for the acceptance and evaluation of its FTAA applications with the MGB. Being the first to file its FTAA applications ahead of Diamond Drilling’s MPSA application, and having furnished copies of its FTAA applications to the MGB-CAR Regional Office within 72 hours from filing, Newmont must be given preferential right to utilize the area included in its FTAA applications.”
Diamond Drilling Corporation of the Philippines v. Newmont Philippines, Incorporated, G.R. No. 183576, May 30, 2011

Petition for review is the proper mode of appeal in SAC cases

Decisions of the Regional Trial Court sitting as Special Agrarian Court (SAC) in eminent domain cases may be appealed to the Court of Appeals by means of a petition for review, rather than ordinary appeal, because of the need for absolute dispatch in the determination of just compensation. Unlike an ordinary appeal, a petition for review dispenses with the filing of a notice of appeal or completion of records as requisites before any pleading is submitted. On the other hand, a petition for review hastens the award of fair recompense to deprived landowners for the government-acquired property, an end not foreseeable in an ordinary appeal. This is the rule adopted in Land Bank of the Philippines v. De Leon,   G.R. No. 143275, September 10, 2002, 388 SCRA 537.

Land Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 190660, April 11, 2011, Third Division

Court of Appeals can admit new evidence in certiorari cases

In Maralit v. Philippine National Bank, where petitioner Maralit questioned the appellate court’s admission and appreciation of a belatedly submitted documentary evidence, the Court held that “[i]n a special civil action for certiorari, the Court of Appeals has ample authority to receive new evidence and perform any act necessary to resolve factual issues.” The Court explained further:

Section 9 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended, states that, “The Court of Appeals shall have the power to try cases and conduct hearings, receive evidence and perform any and all acts necessary to resolve factual issues raised in cases falling within its original and appellate jurisdiction, including the power to grant and conduct new trials or further proceedings.”

Likewise, in VMC Rural Electric Service Cooperative, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,16 the Court held:

[I]t is already settled that under Section 9 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended by Republic Act No. 7902 (An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals, amending for the purpose of Section Nine of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 as amended, known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980), the Court of Appeals — pursuant to the exercise of its original jurisdiction over Petitions for Certiorari — is specifically given the power to pass upon the evidence, if and when necessary, to resolve factual issues. As clearly stated in Section 9 of BatasPambansa Blg. 129, as amended by Republic Act 7902:

The Court of Appeals shall have the power to try cases and conduct hearings, receive evidence and perform any and all acts necessary to resolve factual issues raised in cases falling within its original and appellate jurisdiction, including the power to grant and conduct new trials or further proceedings. x x x.

Clearly, the Court of Appeals did not err in admitting the evidence showing LBC Bank’s express ratification of Milan’s consolidation of the title over the subject property. Further, the Court of Appeals did not err in admitting such evidence in resolving LBC Bank’s motion for reconsideration in a special civil action for certiorari. To rule otherwise will certainly defeat the ends of substantial justice.

Marcelo v. LBC Bank, G.R. No. 183575, April 11, 2011

A resolution is not expropriation

The Sangguniang Panglungsod of Mandaluyong City passed a resolution authorizing the city mayor to institute expropriation proceedings to develop a parcel of land for low-cost housing for the benefit of the less privileged but deserving constituents of the city. The landowner opposed and filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition. The Regional Trial Court ruled that the resolution is null and void because the landowner was not invited to the hearings on the resolution and thus denied their right to due process, and that the purpose for the expropriation was not for public use and the expropriation would not benefit the greater number of inhabitants.

Mandaluyong City appealed to the Court of Appeals. The CA reversed. The Supreme Court sustained the CA, on the following grounds: (a) the Sanguniang Panglungsod does not exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions; and (b) the Local Government Code (RA 7160) requires the local government to issue an ordinance, not a resolution, in expropriation proceedings. Consequently, the remedies of certiorari and prohibition are both improper and unavailing.

Yusay v. CA, G.R. No. 156684, April 6, 2011, Third Division

No estoppel on tenant when lessor loses ownership after commencement of lease

Here is one case that should be given the widest dissemination to all first level courts.

Notwithstanding Borre v. Court of Appeals, 242 Phil 345, 352 (1988), where the Supreme Court ruled that estoppel against tenants is subject to a qualification, and that it does not apply if the landlord’s title has expired, or has been conveyed to another, or has been defeated by a title paramount, subsequent to the commencement of lessor-lessee relationship [VII Francisco, The Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines 87 (1973)], the conclusive presumption against the tenant in Sec. 2(b), Rule 131, Rules of Court, is often strictly applied without taking note of the qualification.

It is good that once more in  Santos v. NSO, G.R. No. 171129, April 6, 2011, the Supreme Court chose to emphasize the significance of the qualification. Santos owned a parcel of land which he leased to the National Statistics Office. On the third renewal of the lease, NSO refused to pay rentals and refused to vacate despite notice. Santos filed an unlawful detainer case. In its answer, NSO stated that the property of Santos was already foreclosed by China Bank and title was already consolidated in the name of the bank. Since Santos was neither the owner, co-owner, legal representative or assignee of China Bank, landlord or a person entitled to the physical possession of the subject property, he has no legal personality to institute the complaint.

The MTC ruled that NSO’s admission that it was a lessee who failed to pay rent effectively removed its right to question Santos’ title and ownership. On appeal, the Regional Trial Court sustained the MTC. However, the Court of Appeals reversed on review and ruled that Borre applies.

The Supreme Court sustained the CA. The NSO demonstrated by the following documentary exhibits: (1) the Promissory Note executed by petitioner and his spouse in favor of China Bank for a loan of P20 million and the (Real Estate) Mortgage over the subject property; (2) the Petition for Extrajudicial Foreclosure of said Real Estate Mortgage; (3) the Notice of Auction Sale By Notary Public, Certificate of Posting, Affidavit of Publication and Certificate of Sale in favor of China Bank, all in connection with the extrajudicial foreclosure sale of the leased premises; (4) the Affidavit of Consolidation executed by China Bank’s Vice-President to inform the Registry of Deeds of Meycauayan, Bulacan that the one-year period of redemption has expired without petitioner redeeming the property and to request said office to issue the corresponding TCT under the bank’s name; and (5) TCT No. T-370128 (M) issued on August 21, 2000 in the name of China Bank covering the leased property, that the owner of the property is no longer Santos but China Bank. Consequently, following Borre, the conclusive presumption in Sec. 2(b), Rule 131, Rules of Court, does not apply.

Santos v. NSO, G.R. No. 171129, April 6, 2011, First Division.

Loss of trust and confidence must be performance-related to justify dismissal

A manager was dismissed on the ground of loss of trust and confidence because of losses incurred by a unit that was no longer under his responsibility. The Supreme Court ruled:

“Loss of confidence as a just cause for termination of employment is premised on the fact that the employee concerned holds a position of responsibility or trust and confidence.  He must be invested with confidence on delicate matters, such as custody handling or care and protection of the property and assets of the employer.  And, in order to constitute a just cause for dismissal, the act complained of must be work-related and shows that the employee concerned is unfit to continue to work for the employer.

“From the findings of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC it is clear that James did nothing wrong when he handed over to Marciana the envelope containing the applications of persons under the referred accounts of Jorge who were later found to be fictitious.  As the records now stand, James was no longer connected with the VISA Credit Card Unit when the 67 applications for VISA card were approved.  At such time, he was already the Head of the Marketing and Operations of the Jewelry Department.  His act therefore of forwarding the already accomplished applications to the VISA Credit Card Unit is proper as he is not in any position to act on them.  The processing and verification of the identities of the applicants would have been done by the proper department, which is the VISA Credit Card Unit.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon Marciana as Unit Head to have performed her duties.  As correctly observed by the Labor Arbiter, Keppel had gone too far in blaming James for the shortcomings and imprudence of Marciana.  The invocation of Keppel of the loss of trust and confidence as ground for James’s termination has therefore no basis at all.

“Having shown that Keppel failed to discharge its burden of proving that James’s dismissal is for a just cause, we have no other recourse but to declare that such dismissal based on the ground of loss of trust and confidence was illegal.  This is in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of security of tenure.”

Jerusalem v. Keppel Monte Bank, et al., G.R. No. 169564, April 6, 2011, First Division

Court upside down

IN THE Sandiganbayan resolution, also promulgated on May 9, which dismissed the Motion to Intervene in the Carlos Garcia plea-bargain case filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, the anti-graft court’s Second Division intoned: “While the Court is used to be [sic] at the center of conflicting interests, and to be the object of criticism from the losing parties, we have never seen such distortions and prevarications of the facts from people who are expected to be the sentinels of the rule of law.”

Unfortunately for the anti-corruption constituency that helped elect the second Aquino administration, the Sandiganbayan was not referring to the special prosecutors under then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who botched the open-and-shut case against Garcia, but against the critics of the plea bargain and of the Court itself.

Sad but true. Even though Gutierrez and her special prosecutors came to admit under specific questioning in hearings at the Senate and the House of Representatives that they had missed certain evidence or did not follow certain leads, even though it became clear to the lawyers in Congress and to the public at large that certain distortions and prevarications marked the Ombudsman’s entire effort to bring Garcia to justice, even though Gutierrez herself said, under questioning from Sen. Franklin Drilon, that she would consider filing a motion to withdraw the plea bargain agreement in the light of the new evidence and the legal principles being invoked, the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division, speaking through Justice Samuel Martires, still found what it called the “critics” of the plea bargain agreement to be in the wrong, declaring: “We must not be swayed by a public opinion which, no matter how valid and sincere the sentiments may be, is expressed in terms of emotions, if not, from a limited perception and a shallow appreciation of the facts.”

This sounds impressive, but in fact it is completely perverse, because the true adversary of the anti-graft court is not public opinion but graft and corruption. To see the judges wring their hands and then whine, “In fact, we were also amazed at the amount of money that the accused and his family own,” is to witness official inutility. Unexplained wealth of government personnel is prima facie evidence of corruption.

Worse, the justices rationalize their inutility in a way that explains why the corrupt continue to hold sway in the country. “As we have intimated above, we are aware of the existence of a big amount of money in the possession of the accused. But where these sums of money came from was not shown and explained.” Judges living in a vacuum may think that bribes are exchanged with the use of official receipts and record books which government prosecutors must track down, but everyone else knows it is the military general earning a five-digit salary per month but enjoying hundreds of millions in assets who must do the explaining.

To punctuate their discussion of the lack of evidence to determine Garcia’s guilt, the judges said: “It is worth emphasizing that the only evidence which the prosecution has leaned on to prove the predicate crimes is the handwritten letter and sworn statement of Clarita Garcia and the testimony of Heidi Mendoza.” Exactly. Public opinion on the case, which the judges seem to think so little of, is based also on these two sets of evidence; the public just has a different appreciation of their value.

After all, what should the anti-graft court make of Clarita’s confession, made voluntarily and in all candor and innocence before a US official, which described a breathtaking pattern of direct bribery? Surely the public is not wrong to think that Clarita’s confession damns Garcia and his entire family.

What should the court make of Mendoza’s testimony, which described a pattern of official laxity and untold opportunity for graft? Surely the public is not wrong to think that Mendoza’s painstaking audit deepens the guilt of Garcia et al.

This, then, is the real problem: What is the public to make of the Sandiganbayan’s perplexing decision? The issue is not, and has never been, about popularity. It has always been about accountability, about bringing corruption to light and the corrupt to justice. Hiding behind stirring statements expressing independence from public pressure, the justices profess their fealty to duty and the rule of law. In truth, they only deepened public frustration with the fight against corruption.

Editorial. Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 22:42:00 05/12/2011

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