G.R. No. 159792 - Barangay Sangalang, represented by its Chairman Dante C. Marcellana v. Barangay Maguihan, represented by its Chairman Arnulfo Villarez
[G.R. NO. 159792 : December 23, 2009]
BARANGAY SANGALANG, represented by its Chairman DANTE C. MARCELLANA, Petitioner, v. BARANGAY MAGUIHAN, represented by its Chairman ARNULFO VILLAREZ, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a Petition for Review1 on certiorari, under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, seeking to set aside the October 17, 2002 Decision2 and August 25, 2003 Resolution3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 70021.
The facts of the case:
The controversy has its roots in a barangay jurisdiction dispute between petitioner Barangay Sangalang and respondent Barangay Maguihan, both situated in Lemery, Batangas. Specifically, the properties involved in the controversy are those covered by Tax Declaration Nos. 038-00315, 038-00316, and 038-00317. Petitioner claims the lots to be within their territorial jurisdiction, whereas respondent maintains that they are within their territorial boundary.
The case was lodged before the Sangguniang Bayan, which referred it to a hearing committee. In turn, the committee formed rendered a report4 to the effect that the properties in dispute belonged to petitioner. The recommendation was subsequently affirmed in Resolution No. 75-965 passed on November 14, 1996 by the Sangguniang Bayan of Lemery, Batangas, the pertinent portion of which reads:
Resolved, as it hereby resolves to recognize as it hereby recognizes the old boundaries of Barangay Maguihan and Sangalang, specifically the areas which are the subject of a barangay dispute covered by TD Nos. 038-00315, 038-00316 and 038-00317 are within the territorial jurisdiction of Barangay Sangalang.6
Respondent appealed the decision to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) pursuant to Section 1197 of the Local Government Code, and the same was docketed as Barangay Jurisdiction Dispute No. 1.
On April 27, 2000, the RTC rendered a Decision8 ruling in favor of respondent, the dispositive portion of which states:
WHEREFORE, Resolution No. 75-96, Series of 1996 of the Sangguniang Bayan of Lemery, Batangas is hereby reversed and set aside and that Lot Nos. 4469 and 6650, covered by and embraced in Tax Declaration Nos. 038-00315, 038-00316, and 038-00317 of the Municipal Assessor of Lemery, Batangas, are hereby adjudged and declared as within the territorial jurisdiction of appellant Barangay Maguihan and, consequently, the Municipal Assessor of Lemery, Batangas and the Provincial Assessor of the Province of Batangas are hereby ordered to make the necessary corrections in its records implemental of this decision.
Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration,10 which was, however, denied by the RTC in an Order11 dated December 20, 2000.
Aggrieved, petitioner then filed a Notice of Appeal.12 Later, petitioner filed an Amended Notice of Appeal.
On October 17, 2002, the CA rendered a Decision13 dismissing the appeal, the dispositive portion of which reads:
IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the present appeal is ordered DISMISSED. No cost.
In dismissing the appeal, the CA ruled that petitioner had availed itself of the wrong remedy in filing a notice of appeal instead of filing a Petition for Review under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court. The pertinent portions of said decision is hereunder reproduced, to wit:
Given the procedural mandates, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Lemery, Batangas, dated April 27, 2000, was rendered by the Regional Trial Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction. Appropriately, under Section 22 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, decisions of the Regional Trial Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, shall be appealable to the Court of Appeals by way of petitions for review under Rule 42 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.15
The CA also ruled that if said appeal were to be considered as an ordinary appeal under Rule 41, it still should be dismissed, because the submitted appellant's brief failed to contain a subject index and page references to the records requirement in its Statement of Facts and Case and Argument, as provided for in Section 13 of Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Procedure.16
Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was, however, denied by the CA in a Resolution dated August 25, 2003.
Hence, herein petition, with petitioner raising the following assignment of errors, to wit:
THE COURT A QUO COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DISMISSING THE APPEAL OF PETITIONER SOLELY BASED ON THE RIGID AND STRICT APPLICATION OF TECHNICALITIES OVERRIDING SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE, THAT IS, THE MERIT OF THE PETITIONER'S APPEAL, IN UTTER VIOLATION OF EXISTING AND WELL SETTLED NUMEROUS DECISIONS OF THIS HONORABLE SUPREME COURT.
THE DECISION, ANNEX "I", AND THE ORDER, ANNEX "K", RENDERED BY THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF BATANGAS, BRANCH V, LEMERY, BATANGAS, IN CIVIL CASE BOUNDARY JURISDICTIONAL DISPUTE NO. 01, REVERSING AND SETTING ASIDE THE APPEALED RESOLUTION NO. 75-96, SERIES OF 1996, OF THE SANGGUNIANG BAYAN OF LEMERY, BATANGAS, ARE NULL AND VOID BECAUSE RESPONDENT MAGUIHAN HAS NOT PERFECTED ITS APPEAL AND BY REASON THEREOF, THE TRIAL COURT HAS NOT ACQUIRED APPELLATE JURISDICTION.
THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN SUBSTITUTING ITS OWN JUDGMENT OVER AND ABOVE THE JUDGMENT OF THE SANGGUNIANG BAYAN OF LEMERY, BATANGAS, WHICH IS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE LIKEWISE IN DISREGARD OF THE EXISTING AND WELL SETTLED DECISIONS OF THIS HONORABLE SUPREME COURT.17
At the outset, this Court shall first address the procedural issues raised by petitioner.
This Court is bewildered by petitioner's posture to tailor-fit the rules of court to its own convenience. The first and second assigned errors involve a question of the propriety of a strict application of the rules. It seems, however, that petitioner has taken a divergent stand on the said matter depending, on whether the same would be favorable to his cause. As to his first assigned error, petitioner faults the CA for having strictly applied the rules of court notwithstanding his choice of the wrong remedy; yet, on the other hand, as to his second assigned error, petitioner faults the RTC for not having strictly applied the rules of court to respondent's alleged failure to pay the corresponding docket fees.
Anent the issue of docket fees, this Court, in Yambao v. Court of Appeals,18 declared:
x x x Considering the importance and purpose of the remedy of appeal, an essential part of our judicial system, courts are well-advised to proceed with caution so as not to deprive a party of the right to appeal, but rather, ensure that every party-litigant has the "amplest opportunity for the proper and just disposition of his cause, freed from constraints of technicalities." In line with this policy, we have held that, in appealed cases, the failure to pay the appellate docket fee does not automatically result in the dismissal of the appeal x x x
A reading of the records of the case shows that it was only in his Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration19 to the RTC Decision that petitioner first raised the issue of non-payment of docket fees. Respondent, for his part, filed with the RTC an Opposition and Comment20 explaining his failure to file the corresponding docket fees, thus:
1. That as regards the claim of appellee that the docket fee has not been paid by the appellant the same is correct. But the appellant who appealed the case by himself and being a layman was not aware that a docket fee should be paid in case perfection of an appeal and no one from the court's personnel reminds (sic) him of this requirement. But in order not to sacrifice the ends of justice, the appellant is willing to pay the docket fee and other lawful charges necessary for the perfection of an appeal.21 ???ñr?bl?š
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