G.R. No. 114323 July 23, 1998
OIL AND NATURAL GAS COMMISSION, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and PACIFIC CEMENT COMPANY, INC., Respondents.
This proceeding involves the enforcement of a foreign judgment rendered by the Civil Judge of Dehra Dun, India in favor of the petitioner, OIL AND NATURAL GAS COMMISSION and against the private respondent, PACIFIC CEMENT COMPANY, INCORPORATED.
The petitioner is a foreign corporation owned and controlled by the Government of India while the private respondent is a private corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of the Philippines. The present conflict between the petitioner and the private respondent has its roots in a contract entered into by and between both parties on February 26, 1983 whereby the private respondent undertook to supply the petitioner FOUR THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED (4,300) metric tons of oil well cement. In consideration therefor, the petitioner bound itself to pay the private respondent the amount of FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY-SEVEN THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED U.S. DOLLARS ($477,300.00) by opening an irrevocable, divisible, and confirmed letter of credit in favor of the latter. The oil well cement was loaded on board the ship MV SURUTANA NAVA at the port of Surigao City, Philippines for delivery at Bombay and Calcutta, India. However, due to a dispute between the shipowner and the private respondent, the cargo was held up in Bangkok and did not reach its point destination. Notwithstanding the fact that the private respondent had already received payment and despite several demands made by the petitioner, the private respondent failed to deliver the oil well cement. Thereafter, negotiations ensued between the parties and they agreed that the private respondent will replace the entire 4,300 metric tons of oil well cement with Class "G" cement cost free at the petitioner's designated port. However, upon inspection, the Class "G" cement did not conform to the petitioner's specifications. The petitioner then informed the private respondent that it was referring its claim to an arbitrator pursuant to Clause 16 of their contract which stipulates:
On July 23, 1988, the chosen arbitrator, one Shri N.N. Malhotra, resolved the dispute in petitioner's favor setting forth the arbitral award as follows:
To enable the petitioner to execute the above award in its favor, it filed a Petition before the Court of the Civil Judge in Dehra Dun. India (hereinafter referred to as the foreign court for brevity), praying that the decision of the arbitrator be made "the Rule of Court" in India. The foreign court issued notices to the private respondent for filing objections to the petition. The private respondent complied and sent its objections dated January 16, 1989. Subsequently, the said court directed the private respondent to pay the filing fees in order that the latter's objections could be given consideration. Instead of paying the required filing fees, the private respondent sent the following communication addressed to the Civil judge of Dehra Dun:
Without responding to the above communication, the foreign court refused to admit the private respondent's objections for failure to pay the required filing fees, and thereafter issued an Order on February 7, 1990, to wit:
Despite notice sent to the private respondent of the foregoing order and several demands by the petitioner for compliance therewith, the private respondent refused to pay the amount adjudged by the foreign court as owing to the petitioner. Accordingly, the petitioner filed a complaint with Branch 30 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Surigao City for the enforcement of the aforementioned judgment of the foreign court. The private respondent moved to dismiss the complaint on the following grounds: (1) plaintiffs lack of legal capacity to sue; (2) lack of cause of action; and (3) plaintiffs claim or demand has been waived, abandoned, or otherwise extinguished. The petitioner filed its opposition to the said motion to dismiss, and the private respondent, its rejoinder thereto. On January 3, 1992, the RTC issued an order upholding the petitioner's legal capacity to sue, albeit dismissing the complaint for lack of a valid cause of action. The RTC held that the rule prohibiting foreign corporations transacting business in the Philippines without a license from maintaining a suit in Philippine courts admits of an exception, that is, when the foreign corporation is suing on an isolated transaction as in this case. 5 Anent the issue of the sufficiency of the petitioner's cause of action, however, the RTC found the referral of the dispute between the parties to the arbitrator under Clause 16 of their contract erroneous. According to the RTC,
The RTC characterized the erroneous submission of the dispute to the arbitrator as a "mistake of law or fact amounting to want of jurisdiction". Consequently, the proceedings had before the arbitrator were null and void and the foreign court had therefore, adopted no legal award which could be the source of an enforceable right. 7
The petitioner then appealed to the respondent Court of Appeals which affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. In its decision, the appellate court concurred with the RTC's ruling that the arbitrator did not have jurisdiction over the dispute between the parties, thus, the foreign court could not validly adopt the arbitrator's award. In addition, the appellate court observed that the full text of the judgment of the foreign court contains the dispositive portion only and indicates no findings of fact and law as basis for the award. Hence, the said judgment cannot be enforced by any Philippine court as it would violate the constitutional provision that no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based. 8 The appellate court ruled further that the dismissal of the private respondent's objections for non-payment of the required legal fees, without the foreign court first replying to the private respondent's query as to the amount of legal fees to be paid, constituted want of notice or violation of due process. Lastly, it pointed out that the arbitration proceeding was defective because the arbitrator was appointed solely by the petitioner, and the fact that the arbitrator was a former employee of the latter gives rise to a presumed bias on his part in favor of the petitioner. 9
A subsequent motion for reconsideration by the petitioner of the appellate court's decision was denied, thus, this petition for review on certiorari citing the following as grounds in support thereof:
The threshold issue is whether or not the arbitrator had jurisdiction over the dispute between the petitioner and the private respondent under Clause 16 of the contract. To reiterate, Clause 16 provides as follows:
The dispute between the parties had its origin in the non-delivery of the 4,300 metric tons of oil well cement to the petitioner. The primary question that may be posed, therefore, is whether or not the non-delivery of the said cargo is a proper subject for arbitration under the above-quoted Clause 16. The petitioner contends that the same was a matter within the purview of Clause 16, particularly the phrase, ". . . or as to any other questions, claim, right or thing whatsoever, in any way arising or relating to the supply order/contract, design, drawing, specification, instruction . . .". 12 It is argued that the foregoing phrase allows considerable latitude so as to include non-delivery of the cargo which was a "claim, right or thing relating to the supply order/contract". The contention is bereft of merit. First of all, the petitioner has misquoted the said phrase, shrewdly inserting a comma between the words "supply order/contract" and "design" where none actually exists. An accurate reproduction of the phrase reads, ". . . or as to any other question, claim, right or thing whatsoever, in any way arising out of or relating to the supply order/contract design, drawing, specification, instruction or these conditions . . .". The absence of a comma between the words "supply order/contract" and "design" indicates that the former cannot be taken separately but should be viewed in conjunction with the words "design, drawing, specification, instruction or these conditions". It is thus clear that to fall within the purview of this phrase, the "claim, right or thing whatsoever" must arise out of or relate to the design, drawing, specification, or instruction of the supply order/contract. The petitioner also insists that the non-delivery of the cargo is not only covered by the foregoing phrase but also by the phrase, ". . . or otherwise concerning the materials or the execution or failure to execute the same during the stipulated/extended period or after completion/abandonment thereof . . .".
The doctrine of noscitur a sociis, although a rule in the construction of statutes, is equally applicable in the ascertainment of the meaning and scope of vague contractual stipulations, such as the aforementioned phrase. According to the maxim noscitur a sociis, where a particular word or phrase is ambiguous in itself or is equally susceptible of various meanings, its correct construction may be made clear and specific by considering the company of the words in which it is found or with which it is associated, or stated differently, its obscurity or doubt may be reviewed by reference to associated words. 13 A close examination of Clause 16 reveals that it covers three matters which may be submitted to arbitration namely,
(1) all questions and disputes, relating to the meaning of the specification designs, drawings and instructions herein before mentioned and as to quality of workmanship of the items ordered; or
(2) any other question, claim, right or thing whatsoever, in any way arising out of or relating to the supply order/contract design, drawing, specification, instruction or these conditions; or
(3) otherwise concerning the materials or the execution or failure to execute the same during stipulated/extended period or after the completion/abandonment thereof.
The first and second categories unmistakably refer to questions and disputes relating to the design, drawing, instructions, specifications or quality of the materials of the supply/order contract. In the third category, the clause, "execution or failure to execute the same", may be read as "execution or failure to execute the supply order/contract". But in accordance with the doctrine of noscitur a sociis, this reference to the supply order/contract must be construed in the light of the preceding words with which it is associated, meaning to say, as being limited only to the design, drawing, instructions, specifications or quality of the materials of the supply order/contract. The non-delivery of the oil well cement is definitely not in the nature of a dispute arising from the failure to execute the supply order/contract design, drawing, instructions, specifications or quality of the materials. That Clause 16 should pertain only to matters involving the technical aspects of the contract is but a logical inference considering that the underlying purpose of a referral to arbitration is for such technical matters to be deliberated upon by a person possessed with the required skill and expertise which may be otherwise absent in the regular courts.
This Court agrees with the appellate court in its ruling that the non-delivery of the oil well cement is a matter properly cognizable by the regular courts as stipulated by the parties in Clause 15 of their contract:
The following fundamental principles in the interpretation of contracts and other instruments served as our guide in arriving at the foregoing conclusion:
Thus, this Court has held that as in statutes, the provisions of a contract should not be read in isolation from the rest of the instrument but, on the contrary, interpreted in the light of the other related provisions. 18 The whole and every part of a contract must be considered in fixing the meaning of any of its harmonious whole. Equally applicable is the canon of construction that in interpreting a statute (or a contract as in this case), care should be taken that every part thereof be given effect, on the theory that it was enacted as an integrated measure and not as a hodge-podge of conflicting provisions. The rule is that a construction that would render a provision inoperative should be avoided; instead, apparently inconsistent provisions should be reconciled whenever possible as parts of a coordinated and harmonious whole. 19
The petitioner's interpretation that Clause 16 is of such latitude as to contemplate even the non-delivery of the oil well cement would in effect render Clause 15 a mere superfluity. A perusal of Clause 16 shows that the parties did not intend arbitration to be the sole means of settling disputes. This is manifest from Clause 16 itself which is prefixed with the proviso, "Except where otherwise provided in the supply order/contract . . .", thus indicating that the jurisdiction of the arbitrator is not all encompassing, and admits of exceptions as may be provided elsewhere in the supply order/contract. We believe that the correct interpretation to give effect to both stipulations in the contract is for Clause 16 to be confined to all claims or disputes arising from or relating to the design, drawing, instructions, specifications or quality of the materials of the supply order/contract, and for Clause 15 to cover all other claims or disputes.
The petitioner then asseverates that granting, for the sake of argument, that the non-delivery of the oil well cement is not a proper subject for arbitration, the failure of the replacement cement to conform to the specifications of the contract is a matter clearly falling within the ambit of Clause 16. In this contention, we find merit. When the 4,300 metric tons of oil well cement were not delivered to the petitioner, an agreement was forged between the latter and the private respondent that Class "G" cement would be delivered to the petitioner as replacement. Upon inspection, however, the replacement cement was rejected as it did not conform to the specifications of the contract. Only after this latter circumstance was the matter brought before the arbitrator. Undoubtedly, what was referred to arbitration was no longer the mere non-delivery of the cargo at the first instance but also the failure of the replacement cargo to conform to the specifications of the contract, a matter clearly within the coverage of Clause 16.
The private respondent posits that it was under no legal obligation to make replacement and that it undertook the latter only "in the spirit of liberality and to foster good business relationship". 20 Hence, the undertaking to deliver the replacement cement and its subsequent failure to conform to specifications are not anymore subject of the supply order/contract or any of the provisions thereof. We disagree.
As per Clause 7 of the supply order/contract, the private respondent undertook to deliver the 4,300 metric tons of oil well cement at "BOMBAY (INDIA) 2181 MT and CALCUTTA 2119 MT". 21 The failure of the private respondent to deliver the cargo to the designated places remains undisputed. Likewise, the fact that the petitioner had already paid for the cost of the cement is not contested by the private respondent. The private respondent claims, however, that it never benefited from the transaction as it was not able to recover the cargo that was unloaded at the port of Bangkok. 22 First of all, whether or not the private respondent was able to recover the cargo is immaterial to its subsisting duty to make good its promise to deliver the cargo at the stipulated place of delivery. Secondly, we find it difficult to believe this representation. In its Memorandum filed before this Court, the private respondent asserted that the Civil Court of Bangkok had already ruled that the non-delivery of the cargo was due solely to the fault of the carrier. 23 It is, therefore, but logical to assume that the necessary consequence of this finding is the eventual recovery by the private respondent of the cargo or the value thereof. What inspires credulity is not that the replacement was done in the spirit of liberality but that it was undertaken precisely because of the private respondent's recognition of its duty to do so under the supply order/contract, Clause 16 of which remains in force and effect until the full execution thereof.
We now go to the issue of whether or not the judgment of the foreign court is enforceable in this jurisdiction in view of the private respondent's allegation that it is bereft of any statement of facts and law upon which the award in favor of the petitioner was based. The pertinent portion of the judgment of the foreign court reads:
As specified in the order of the Civil Judge of Dehra Dun, "Award Paper No. 3/B-1 shall be a part of the decree". This is a categorical declaration that the foreign court adopted the findings of facts and law of the arbitrator as contained in the latter's Award Paper. Award Paper No. 3/B-1, contains an exhaustive discussion of the respective claims and defenses of the parties, and the arbitrator's evaluation of the same. Inasmuch as the foregoing is deemed to have been incorporated into the foreign court's judgment the appellate court was in error when it described the latter to be a "simplistic decision containing literally, only the dispositive portion". 25
The constitutional mandate that no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein dearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based does not preclude the validity of "memorandum decisions" which adopt by reference the findings of fact and conclusions of law contained in the decisions of inferior tribunals. In Francisco v. Permskul, 26 this Court held that the following memorandum decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati did not transgress the requirements of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution:
This Court had occasion to make a similar pronouncement in the earlier case of Romero v. Court of Appeals, 28 where the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals adopted the findings and disposition of the Court of Agrarian Relations in this wise:
Hence, even in this jurisdiction, incorporation by reference is allowed if only to avoid the cumbersome reproduction of the decision of the lower courts, or portions thereof, in the decision of the higher court. 30 This is particularly true when the decision sought to be incorporated is a lengthy and thorough discussion of the facts and conclusions arrived at, as in this case, where Award Paper No. 3/B-1 consists of eighteen (18) single spaced pages.
Furthermore, the recognition to be accorded a foreign judgment is not necessarily affected by the fact that the procedure in the courts of the country in which such judgment was rendered differs from that of the courts of the country in which the judgment is relied on. 31 This Court has held that matters of remedy and procedure are governed by the lex fori or the internal law of the forum. 32 Thus, if under the procedural rules of the Civil Court of Dehra Dun, India, a valid judgment may be rendered by adopting the arbitrator's findings, then the same must be accorded respect. In the same vein, if the procedure in the foreign court mandates that an Order of the Court becomes final and executory upon failure to pay the necessary docket fees, then the courts in this jurisdiction cannot invalidate the order of the foreign court simply because our rules provide otherwise.
The private respondent claims that its right to due process had been blatantly violated, first by reason of the fact that the foreign court never answered its queries as to the amount of docket fees to be paid then refused to admit its objections for failure to pay the same, and second, because of the presumed bias on the part of the arbitrator who was a former employee of the petitioner.
Time and again this Court has held that the essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit any evidence one may have in support of one's defense 33 or stated otherwise, what is repugnant to due process is the denial of opportunity to be heard. 34 Thus, there is no violation of due process even if no hearing was conducted, where the party was given a chance to explain his side of the controversy and he waived his right to do so. 35
In the instant case, the private respondent does not deny the fact that it was notified by the foreign court to file its objections to the petition, and subsequently, to pay legal fees in order for its objections to be given consideration. Instead of paying the legal fees, however, the private respondent sent a communication to the foreign court inquiring about the correct amount of fees to be paid. On the pretext that it was yet awaiting the foreign court's reply, almost a year passed without the private respondent paying the legal fees. Thus, on February 2, 1990, the foreign court rejected the objections of the private respondent and proceeded to adjudicate upon the petitioner's claims. We cannot subscribe to the private respondent's claim that the foreign court violated its right to due process when it failed to reply to its queries nor when the latter rejected its objections for a clearly meritorious ground. The private respondent was afforded sufficient opportunity to be heard. It was not incumbent upon the foreign court to reply to the private respondent's written communication. On the contrary, a genuine concern for its cause should have prompted the private respondent to ascertain with all due diligence the correct amount of legal fees to be paid. The private respondent did not act with prudence and diligence thus its plea that they were not accorded the right to procedural due process cannot elicit either approval or sympathy from this Court. 36
The private respondent bewails the presumed bias on the part of the arbitrator who was a former employee of the petitioner. This point deserves scant consideration in view of the following stipulation in the contract:
Finally, we reiterate hereunder our pronouncement in the case of Northwest Orient Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals 38 that:
Consequently, the party attacking a foreign judgment, the private respondent herein, had the burden of overcoming the presumption of its validity which it failed to do in the instant case.
The foreign judgment being valid, there is nothing else left to be done than to order its enforcement, despite the fact that the petitioner merely prays for the remand of the case to the RTC for further proceedings. As this Court has ruled on the validity and enforceability of the said foreign judgment in this jurisdiction, further proceedings in the RTC for the reception of evidence to prove otherwise are no longer necessary.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED, and the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals sustaining the trial court's dismissal of the OIL AND NATURAL GAS COMMISSION's complaint in Civil Case No. 4006 before Branch 30 of the RTC of Surigao City is REVERSED, and another in its stead is hereby rendered ORDERING private respondent PACIFIC CEMENT COMPANY, INC. to pay to petitioner the amounts adjudged in the foreign judgment subject of said case.
Regalado, Melo and Puno, JJ., concur.
Mendoza, J., took no part.
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