December 2009 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 178606 - The Episcopal Diocese of the Northern Philippines v. The District Engineer, MPED-DPWH
[G.R. NO. 178606 : December 15, 2009]
THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF NORTHERN PHILIPPINES, rep. by VICTOR D. ANANAYO, Convention Secretary, Petitioner, v. THE DISTRICT ENGINEER, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE ENGINEERING DISTRICT, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS [MPED-DPWH], Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
The Facts and the Case
Petitioner Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines or EDNP, a religious corporation, constructed a church building for its congregation on a lot in Lengey, Barangay Poblacion, Sabangan, Mountain Province. The property was covered by Tax Declaration 15922 in its name issued by the provincial assessor.1
Sometime in 2005, a certain Tomas Paredes (Paredes) told members of petitioner EDNP that the Office of the District Engineer of the Mountain Province Engineering District, Department of Public Works and Highways (MPED-DPWH) was going to build a multi-purpose gymnasium on the lot of the church. EDNP objected. After negotiations with Paredes, the parties agreed to have the gymnasium built instead on an area outside the church lot.
Later in October 2005, however, several men entered the church compound and began digging holes for the gym's foundation. In a letter, petitioner EDNP appealed to private contractor Felipe Moises (Moises) not to proceed with the construction. It sent a separate letter to respondent District Engineer Leonardo Leyaley of MPED-DPWH, also requesting him to stop the construction. But it continued unabated, forcing EDNP to file a complaint for forcible entry with prayer for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Bauko and Sabangan against respondent District Engineer Leyaley and Moises in Civil Case 329.
During the initial hearing for the issuance of a TRO, defendant Moises told the court that he was not the real contractor of the project but some other persons whom he named.2 As a consequence of this revelation, petitioner EDNP amended its complaint to include the persons mentioned.
In their respective answers, the defendants contested the amended complaint in that it failed to show any cause of action against them, and alleged that the property in question did not belong to EDNP. They also argued that injunction will not lie against government projects. The defendants, however, would not categorically state nor admit that the construction was in fact based on any contract with the government.
Respondent District Engineer, the other defendants with him, and their counsels, did not show up at the preliminary conference set on April 27, 2006 despite notice. They submitted no explanation. Still, petitioner EDNP asked the court to allow the defendants to file their position papers. Consequently, the MCTC issued a preliminary conference order on the same date, terminating the preliminary conference and directing all parties to submit their respective position papers together with their evidence.
On May 30, 2006 the MCTC rendered judgment, recognizing petitioner EDNP's right to possession of its church lot and holding that Moises and his men had illegally intruded into the property. It thus directed them to desist from disturbing EDNP's possession and to remove all structures they had in the meantime built on it. The MCTC dismissed the case as against the respondent District Engineer and the other contractors that Moises named for lack of cause of action as against them. The MCTC did not award damages or attorney's fees for lack of basis.
Moises appealed the decision to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bontoc, Mountain Province in Civil Case 1224. Although the MCTC dismissed the complaint against respondent District Engineer, the latter filed a memorandum in the case through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). The RTC affirmed the decision of the MCTC.
Yet again, respondent District Engineer appealed the RTC decision to the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP 96849. On February 20, 2007 the CA rendered judgment, setting aside the decisions of the MCTC and the RTC. The CA held that both courts below denied the District Engineer his right to due process. Instead of sending a copy of the order requiring the parties to file their position papers to the OSG, his counsel, the MCTC sent the same to Moises, his co-defendant.
And while the OSG filed a position paper for the District Engineer, the MCTC, said the CA, failed to consider it. Additionally, no valid judgment could be rendered in the case for failure of the plaintiff to implead the people of Barangay Poblacion who were indispensable parties in the ejectment suit, the gym being intended for their use. Petitioner EDNP filed a motion for reconsideration of its decision but the CA denied it.3
The petition presents two issues:
1. Whether or not the MCTC denied respondent District Engineer's right to due process when no copy of the order requiring him to file his position papers with the MCTC was sent to his counsel, the OSG; andcralawlibrary
2. Whether or not the people of Barangay Poblacion, Sabangan, Mountain Province, were indispensable parties in petitioner EDNP's action for forcible entry.
The Court's Rulings
One. The record shows that the MCTC addressed a copy of the order requiring the parties to file their position papers to respondent District Engineer personally rather than to the OSG4 and that it was his co-defendant Moises who acknowledged receipt of such copy on behalf of the District Engineer. It was this circumstance that prompted the CA to rule that no valid service of the order was made on the District Engineer.
Still, the OSG in fact filed a position paper dated May 18, 2006 on behalf of respondent District Engineer. This shows that someone notified the OSG before that date of the need for it to file a position paper for its client. Apparently, it took the OSG 11 days by mail to file such paper for the MCTC received it only on May 29, 2006,5 the day before the MCTC promulgated its decision. The CA inferred from this that the MCTC failed to consider that position paper when it decided the case, resulting in the denial of the District Engineer's right to be heard on his defense.6
Although it is not known when the OSG received notice that it needed to file a position paper in the case, the fact remains that it received actual notice. As petitioner EDNP correctly pointed out, lack of formal notice cannot prevail against the fact of actual notice.7
Besides, the OSG neither complained that it did not get formal notice to file a position paper nor did it ask that it be given more time to prepare and file one. Rather, it took the risk of taking time to file its position paper. As it happened, the MCTC received the OSG's position paper just the day before the court came out with its decision. The OSG had no right to expect the MCTC to wait forever for its position paper.
What is more, respondent District Engineer had no right to complain of the denial of his right to be heard in his defense. He did not appear despite notice during the preliminary conference in the case nor bothered to explain why he did not do so. To be strict about it, he forfeited by such omission his right to submit a position paper. Indeed, by his default, the rules entitled petitioner EDNP to a judgment based on the complaint.8 ???ñr?bl?š ??r