[G.R. No. 139360. September 23, 2003.]
HLC CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION AND HENRY LOPEZ CHUA, Petitioners, v. EMILY HOMES SUBDIVISION HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION (EHSHA), LUCIO ABBOT, JAIME ABRIS, MARINA ACUÑA, PATROCENIO ALCOBA, MARCILINA ALFAFARA, JOSE ALMARIO, CELISTINO AMBAYEN, PERLITA ANDRADE, ALBINO ANGELES, RONALDO ANGELES, REYNALDO ANGELITUD, ROMEO ANITO, NICASIO ARENDAIN, ERNESTO ARENDAIN, MAGELLAN ARO, ROSCIANA ASILUM, PURIFICACION BALGUE, WILFREDA BALO, HILARION BENTILANON, JUDITH BERNAL, AURELIA BERNAT, GEMMA BORNON, VIRGINIA BOYOSE, SAMAON BUAT, ANNETE BUESA, ZENAIDA CADOYAS, MARIA GILDA CALAMBA, FLORDELIZ CALLIDO, MANUEL CAMAHALAN, MARIA LOURDES CANO, NOEL CAPINPIN, ANNIE CAMPOREDONDO, REBECCA CARBELLIDO, SHIRLEY CARTALABA, BRIGGITTE CARVAJAL, ANNIE CENTINA, SILVERIO CHUAN, JOSEPHINE CONOMAN, VICTOR CORRAL, REZIE CRISPINO, OFELIA CUSTODIO, ALEJANDRO DERECHO, MERLYN DIAZ, PAQUITO DOMINGO, EFREN DURANO, FELECIDAD ESCALARIS, VIOLETA ESPIJA, EUGENE FERNANDEZ, DOMINADOR FLORENTINO, GALILEO FLORES, HERMINIGILDO FLORES, PETE FLORES, GLORIA FONTILLA, WILLIAM GALIDO, RENE ELPIDIO GALILIA, RENATO GAZO, CESAR GEGARE JR., ANGELI GELIA, MONINA GENTICA, PEDRO GERSALIA, ARACELI GIMAY, ARTHUR GOC-ONG, RICARDO GONZAGA, WILMA GONZALES, ALSON GRANADA, MERLIE GUILLERMO, GABRIEL HERNANDEZ JR., ANTONIO IBIS, HOMER IMPERIAL, ROMEO JANOTO, EDGAR JERA, ROMEO LITO JESURO, RODRIGO JUMALIN, FURTONATO JUSON, ARLYN LABOR, LETICIA LAGUNSAY, HAZEL MARIE LAINGO, ROSIELYN DE LEON, WILMA LIMBURAN, JEANA LINAO, VICENTA MIGUELITA LLOREN, MYRNA LOFRANCO, ESTELA LOVITOS, LORNA MACATUAL, NELIA MADELO, MARIO MAGHANOY, GILBERT MAGHANOY, MARY ANN MANALO, ROGER MANAPOL, QUIRICO MARI, EMELITA MARTINEZ, MIRRIAM MASUELA, MILAGROS MEDINA, SUSAN MELCHOR, AMELIA MONDEJAR, PABLO MORENO JR., LAZARO NAMOCO, DARWIN NARAGA, FEDERICO NARAGA, GRACE NECOR, MARY JEAN JAURIGUE NONOL, DANILO NOVERO SR., BERNARDO NUÑEZ JR., RICARDO OBTINARIO, JOJO CAESAR OCAMPO, THELMA OLAC, JENNIFER OLARTE, ANTONIO PACE JR., RODRIGO PACHORO, NOLI PADASAY, EVA PALMA, IMELDA PALMA, REUBEN PANCER, CORAZON RAMA PEDROSA, MELODIA PEPITO, IRENE PIAMONTE, GEORGE POPA, MARINA QUIÑONEZ, JOSEPHINE QUITAYEN, CERINA RABOR, HAIDE RAMOS, SABAS RELACION III, ERICSON RELATADO, VICTORINO RELATORRES, RAQUEL RELLON, EDUARDO REVILLIEZA, RONNIE RIOJA, LUNESTO ROJAS, TEODORA DEL ROSARIO, LILIA ROSIL, FLORECITA SALERA, CARLITO SANORIA, DELINO SARDIDO, JOSELITO SARMIENTO, GLADYS JOY SEGISMUNDO, RENATO SELMA, NORMA SULTAN, PRESCILLA TABAR, ANDRES TAC-AN JR., RODOLFO TAJONERA JR., ELVIRA TALON, ALBERTO TAMBA, LILIA TAMBA, SOLITA TAPANG, TERESA VALDEZ, ALEXANDER VILLARBA, DANILO WONG, MANUEL YOLORES, NAPOLEON FEROLIN, AGNES CRISPINO and HILARIO I. MAPAYO, in his capacity as Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court, Branch 19, Digos, Davao del Sur, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Assailed in the instant petition for certiorari
under Rule 65 1 of the Rules of Court is the March 15, 1999 order 2 of the Regional Trial Court of Davao del Sur, Branch 19, denying the motion to dismiss of petitioners HLC Construction and Development Corporation and Henry Lopez Chua, on the ground of lack of jurisdiction and a defective certification against non-forum shopping.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Respondents Emily Homes Subdivision Homeowners Association (EHSHA) and the 150 individual members thereof filed on October 21, 1998 a civil action for breach of contract, damages and attorney’s fees with the Regional Trial Court of Davao del Sur, Branch 19, against petitioners, the developers of low-cost housing units like Emily Homes Subdivision. Respondents alleged that petitioners used substandard materials in the construction of their houses, like coco lumber and termite-infested door jambs. Petitioners furthermore allegedly did not adhere to the house plan specifications because the ceiling lines were sagging and there were "deviations from the plumb line of the mullions, door jams (sic) and concrete columns." 3 Respondents asked petitioners to repair their defective housing units but petitioners failed to do so. Respondents had to repair their defective housing units using their own funds. Hence, they prayed for actual and moral damages arising from petitioners’ breach of the contract plus exemplary damages and attorney’s fees.
On December 11, 1998, petitioners filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming that it was the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) and not the trial court which had jurisdiction over the case. They also cited the defective certification on non-forum shopping which was signed only by the president of EHSHA and not by all its members; such defect allegedly warranted the dismissal of the complaint.
The trial court denied petitioners’ motion to dismiss on the ground that the case fell within its jurisdiction, not with the HLURB, and that respondents’ certificate of non-forum shopping substantially complied with Rule 7, Section 5 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. It also denied petitioners’ motion for reconsideration.
Aggrieved, petitioners filed the instant petition for certiorari
, alleging that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction in holding (1) that the case between petitioners and respondents fell within the jurisdiction of the civil courts and (2) that respondents had substantially complied with the rules on forum shopping despite the fact that only one of the 150 respondents had signed the certificate therefor.
Petitioners are correct that the case between them and respondents fell within the jurisdiction of the HLURB, not the trial court. However, we cannot sustain petitioners’ contention that respondents’ certificate of non-forum shopping was defective, thus allegedly warranting the outright dismissal thereof by the trial court.
The general rule is that the certificate of non-forum shopping must be signed by all the plaintiffs in a case and the signature of only one of them is insufficient. 4 However, the Court has also stressed that the rules on forum shopping were designed to promote and facilitate the orderly administration of justice and thus should not be interpreted with such absolute literalness as to subvert its own ultimate and legitimate objective. 5 The strict compliance with the provisions regarding the certificate of non-forum shopping merely underscores its mandatory nature in that the certification cannot be altogether dispensed with or its requirements completely disregarded. It does not thereby prohibit substantial compliance with its provisions under justifiable circumstances. 6
Thus in the recent case of Cavile, Et. Al. v. Heirs of Clarita Cavile, Et Al., 7 we ruled:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
[T]he execution by Thomas George Cavile, Sr., in behalf of all the other petitioners of the certificate of non-forum shopping constitutes substantial compliance with the Rules. All the petitioners, being relatives and co-owners of the properties in dispute, share a common interest thereon. They also share a common defense in the complaint for partition filed by respondents. Thus, when they filed the instant petition, they filed it as a collective, raising only one argument to defend their rights over the properties in question. There is sufficient basis, therefore, for Thomas George Cavile, Sr. to speak for and in behalf of his co-petitioners that they have not filed any action or claim involving the same issues in another court or tribunal, nor is there other pending action or claim in another court or tribunal involving the same issues. Moreover, it has been held that the merits of the substantive aspects of the case may be deemed as "special circumstances" for the Court to take cognizance of a petition for review although the certification against forum shopping was executed and signed by only one of the petitioners.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The above ruling is squarely applicable to the present case. Respondents (who were plaintiffs in the trial court) filed the complaint against petitioners as a group, represented by their homeowners’ association president who was likewise one of the plaintiffs, Mr. Samaon M. Buat. Respondents raised one cause of action which was the breach of contractual obligations and payment of damages. They shared a common interest in the subject matter of the case, being the aggrieved residents of the poorly constructed and developed Emily Homes Subdivision. Due to the collective nature of the case, there was no doubt that Mr. Samaon M. Buat could validly sign the certificate of non-forum shopping in behalf of all his co-plaintiffs. In cases therefore where it is highly impractical to require all the plaintiffs to sign the certificate of non-forum shopping, it is sufficient, in order not to defeat the ends of justice, for one of plaintiffs, acting as representative, to sign the certificate provided that, as in Cavile Et. Al., the plaintiffs share a common interest in the subject matter of the case or filed the case as a "collective," raising only one common cause of action or defense.
In any case, even if it was correct for the trial court to rule that respondents had substantially complied with the rules on forum shopping and thus, their complaint before it should not be dismissed, we find that the trial court should have nonetheless dismissed the complaint for a more important reason — it had no jurisdiction over it. It is the HLURB, not the trial court, which had jurisdiction over respondents’ complaint. The HLURB 8 is the government agency empowered to regulate the real estate trade and business, having exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide cases involving:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(a) unsound real estate business practices;
(b) claims involving refunds and any other claims filed by subdivision lot or condominium unit buyers against the project owner, developer, dealer, broker or salesman; and
(c) cases involving specific performance of contractual and statutory obligations filed by buyers of subdivision lots or condominium units against the owner, developer, dealer, broker or salesman. 9
In this case, respondents’ complaint was for the reimbursement of expenses incurred in repairing their defective housing units constructed by petitioners. Clearly, the HLURB had jurisdiction to hear it. In the case of Arranza v. B. F. Homes, Inc., 10 this Court ruled that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
. . . the HLURB has jurisdiction over complaints arising from contracts between the subdivision developer and the lot buyer or those aimed at compelling the subdivision developer to comply with its contractual and statutory obligations to make the subdivision a better place to live in. 11
The fact that the subject matter of the complaint involved defective housing units did not remove the complaint from the HLURB’s jurisdiction. The delivery of habitable houses was petitioners’ responsibility under their contract with respondents. The trial court should have granted the motion to dismiss filed by petitioners so that the issues therein could be expeditiously heard and resolved by the HLURB.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GRANTED. The March 15, 1999 order of the Regional Trial Court of Davao del Sur, Branch 19, denying the petitioners’ motion to dismiss, is ANNULLED and Civil Case No. 3731 before it (trial court) is hereby DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. This is without prejudice to the re-filing of the respondents’ complaint in the HLURB.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Puno, Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez and Carpio Morales, JJ.
1. Given due course by this Court on September 27, 2000; Rollo, p. 51.
2. Penned by Judge Hilario I. Mapayo.
3. Complaint, Rollo, pp. 20, 25.
4. Loquias v. Office of the Ombudsman, 388 SCRA 62 ; Docena v. Lapesura, 355 SCRA 658 .
5. BPI v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146923, April 30, 2003; Cavile Et. Al., v. Heirs of Clarita Cavile, Et Al., G.R. No. 148635, April 1, 2003; Twin Towers Condominium Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 123552, February 27, 2003.
6. Cavile Et. Al., v. Heirs of Clarita Cavile, Et Al., G.R. No. 148635, April 1, 2003.
8. Formerly the Human Settlements Regulatory Commission (HSRC), it was renamed Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) by virtue of Executive Order No. 90 dated December 17, 1986. The regulatory and quasi judicial functions of the National Housing Authority (NHA) were transferred to it by virtue of Executive Order No. 648 dated February 7, 1981.
9. Presidential Decree No. 957 (The Subdivision and Condominium Buyers’ Protective Decree), as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1344 (Empowering the National Housing Authority to Issue Writ of Execution in the Enforcement of its Decision under Presidential Decree No. 957).
10. 333 SCRA 799, 817 .
11. Ibid. at p. 814.
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