G.R. No. 131127 June 8, 2000
ALFONSO T. YUCHENGCO, Petitioner, v. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON GOOD GOVERNMENT, ESTATE OF FERDINAND E. MARCOS, PRIME HOLDINGS, INC. ESTATE OF RAMON U. COJUANGCO AND IMELDA O. COJUANGCO, Respondents.
This is a petition for review to set aside the Resolution of the Sandiganbayan dated October 9, 1996 1 dismissing petitioner's Amended-complaint-in-intervention and the subsequent Resolution dated October 6, 1997 2 denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.
The issue in this petition is whether or not, under the undisputed circumstances at bar, the Sandiganbayan may dismiss the complaint-in-intervention for alleged failure to pay the correct amount of docket fees on time.
On July 16, 1987, the Republic of the Philippines (hereinafter, the Republic) filed with the Sandiganbayan a complaint for Rescission, Reconveyance, Restitution, Accounting and Damages against Ferdinand E. Marcos, Imelda Marcos and Prime Holdings, Inc. (hereinafter, PHI), docketed as Civil Case No. 0002. Alleging ownership of the properties of the Marcoses sought to be forfeited by the Republic, petitioner Yuchengco filed a motion for intervention and complaint-in-intervention on August 11, 1988, impleading the Republic, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Ferdinand E. Marcos, Imelda Marcos and PHI as defendants-in-intervention. 3 Petitioner paid a docket fee of P400.00.
On February 17, 1989, the Sandiganbayan issued a Resolution granting the motion for intervention and admitting the complaint-in-intervention. 4 The Republic filed a motion for reconsideration on March 14, 1989, which petitioner opposed.
On February 9, 1990, the Sandiganbayan denied the Republic's motion for reconsideration. 5 Hence, the Republic and the PCGG, on behalf of PHI, filed an answer to the complaint-in-intervention dated June 19, 1990 and November 2, 1990, respectively.
Meanwhile, PHI filed a Manifestation and Motion, stating that Imelda Cojuangco and the Estate of Ramon U. Cojuangco claim ownership of PHI. Thus, on May 31, 1993, petitioner moved for leave to admit amended complaint-in-intervention to implead the said claimants. 6
On June 11, 1993, the Sandiganbayan, in open court, admitted the amended complaint-in-intervention. 7 Consequently, amended answers-in-intervention were filed by the Republic and the PHI on July 2, 1993.
On the other hand, the Estate of Ramon Cojuangco and Imelda O. Cojuangco (hereinafter, the Cojuangcos) filed a motion to dismiss 8 the amended complaint-in-intervention, dated August 25, 1993, on the ground of failure to state a cause of action and lack of jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan over the case, inasmuch as petitioner did not pay the correct docket fees. They argued that the amended-complaint-in-intervention failed to state the amount of the claim or the value of the property subject of the complaint, in violation of the doctrine laid down in Manchester Development Corporation, et al. v. Court of Appeals. 9
On September 6, 1993, petitioner filed a second amended complaint-in-intervention with motion for leave. Later, on September 28, 1993, he also opposed the motion to dismiss filed by PHI and the Cojuangcos on September 28, 1993. 10
PHI and the Cojuangcos filed a reply 11 alleging that since the amended complaint-in-intervention is substantially an action for the recovery of ownership and possession of shareholdings in the Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corporation (PTIC), Section 7 (a) of Rule 141 of the Rules of Court applies, to wit:
Further, respondents PHI and the Cojuangcos contend that as the action seeks to litigate the ownership and disposition of properties consisting of subject shares, the amount of docket fees must be based on the total value of the same.
Petitioner filed a rejoinder 12 dated November 29, 1993, maintaining that no docket fees are payable to the Sandiganbayan, pursuant to Section 11 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended, which provides:
In their sur-rejoinder filed on January 28, 1994, 1 respondents PHI and the Cojuangcos countered that the reason for the above-quoted Section 11 of P.D. 1606 is that the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan at the time of its enactment was limited to criminal actions. With the expansion of the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction to include civil cases, the payment of docket fees has become a jurisdictional requirement.
On February 8, 1994 14, petitioner replied that the Sandiganbayan has no power or discretion to ignore or amend the provision in Section 11 of P.D. 1606 simply on the basis of public policy. Petitioner points out that Executive Order No. 14 issued by President Corazon C. Aquino did not amend the said provision, hence, payment of docket fees in the Sandiganbayan is legally without basis.
On September 21, 1994, petitioner re-filed his second amended complaint-in-intervention 15 with motion to admit, wherein he sought to include Y Realty Corporation as co-plaintiff-in-intervention and to join Imelda R. Marcos as the representative of the Estate of Ferdinand Marcos.
On October 11, 1994, PHI and the Cojuangcos opposed the motion to admit second amended complaint-in-intervention, 16 contending that jurisdictional issues should first be resolved before the most recent motion is considered.
A motion for early resolution 17 was filed by petitioner on October 27, 1994. He averred that since the main issues in the motion to dismiss filed by PHI and the Cojuangcos dwell on payment of docket fees and the amount thereof, which may possibly involve the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, and it is unclear whether the filing of the complaint-in-intervention tolled the running of the 10-year prescriptive period, there is a need for the Sandiganbayan to resolve the motion to dismiss as soon as possible.
On March 31, 1995, petitioner moved that he be allowed to post a
In a Resolution dated April 17, 1995, 19 the Sandiganbayan deferred the resolution of the motion to dismiss until trial, as the grounds raised therein do not appear to be indubitable.
Meanwhile, PHI and the Cojuangcos opposed petitioner's motion to post bond on the ground that the same should not be construed as a substitute for the actual payment of the proper docket fees, because payment of docket fees should not be subject to any contingency. 20
On the other hand, petitioner moved for the partial reconsideration of the Resolution dated April 17, 1995 insofar as the deferment of the issue on payment of docket fees and the amount thereof. In the alternative, petitioner prayed that his motion to post bond be granted. 21 PHI and the Cojuangcos also moved for the reconsideration of the April 17, 1995 Resolution. 22
Meanwhile, petitioner prayed for the denial of the motion to dismiss in view of the passage of Republic Act No. 7975 2 which, like Executive Order 14, did not amend Section 11 of P.D. 1606. 24
In the meantime, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari before this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 123264, 25 assailing public respondent's decision to defer adjudication on the issues raised in PHI's and the Cojuangcos' motion to dismiss. The petition for certiorari was dismissed by this Court for being premature. 26
On March 29, 1996, the Sandiganbayan issued a Resolution denying petitioner's motion to post bond and ordering petitioner (plaintiff-in-intervention therein) to pay the balance of the docket fee in the amount of P14,425.00. 27 Petitioner paid with reservation. 28
PHI and the Cojuangcos filed a motion for reconsideration, 29 arguing that the Sandiganbayan erred in the computation of the docket fees and in allowing petitioner to pay additional docket fees beyond the prescriptive period. They again invoked Rule 141, Section 7 (a) of the Rules of Court and averred that the PTIC, registered in the name of PHI, has a stated value of P1.6 billion. Accordingly, as petitioner claims to own 31% of PTIC, which has a more recent value of P1,078,260,896.56, he should be made to pay at least the sum of P5,391,154.35.
On May 7, 1996, 30 the Sandiganbayan denied PHI's and the Cojuangcos' motion for reconsideration of its April 17, 1995 Resolution.
Thereafter, respondents PHI and the Cojuangcos filed their answer to the amended complaint-in-intervention. 31
On June 11, 1996, petitioner moved that the amount of P14,425.00 be refunded to him, 32 insisting that proceedings in the Sandiganbayan should be free of charge.
The Sandiganbayan, on October 9, 1996, issued the assailed resolution granting the motion to dismiss and denying petitioner's motion to admit second amended complaint-in-intervention. 3
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration 34 dated October 30, 1996, and PHI and the Cojuangcos filed their opposition. 35 The Republic filed a manifestation 36 dated December 24, 1996 adopting the arguments raised by PHI and the Cojuangcos.
On October 6, 1997, the Sandiganbayan denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration. 37 Hence this petition.
As earlier stated, the main issue to be resolved in the case at bar is whether or not petitioner is barred from asserting his alleged causes of action against respondents by reason of non-payment of the proper docket fees.
The Sandiganbayan cited several cases spanning from 1932 to 1987 to the effect that it is not simply the filing of the complaint or appropriate initiatory pleading, but the payment of the prescribed docket fee, that vests the trial court with jurisdiction over the subject matter or nature of the action. 38
The ruling that the timely filing of correct docket fees is jurisdictional is all too familiar. It should be noted, however, that the pronouncements of this Court on the matter have always been influenced by the peculiar legal and equitable circumstances surrounding each case. For instance, the Lazaro v. Eudencia 39 ruling was in accordance with the then applicable law, i.e., Section 76 of Act No. 190 as amended by Act No. 3615. In Malimit v. Degamo 40, this Court ruled that the date of payment of docket fees and not the date of mailing is considered the date of filing of a petition for quo warranto. In Garcia v. Vasquez 41, this Court initially stated that a docket fee must be paid for a second will executed by the same decedent. Subsequently, on a motion for reconsideration, this Court reversed itself and held that the initial payment for the first will presented for probate was sufficient compliance. This Court was even more liberal in Magaspi v. Ramolete, 42 where the docket fee was paid upon the filing of the complaint. It turned out later, after the complaint was amended, that the payment was insufficient. This Court ruled that under the circumstances, the case was docketed upon the first payment and the trial court already acquired jurisdiction. However, the correct fee based on the amended complaint was required to be paid.
In the instant case, the Sandiganbayan adhered strictly to the rule enunciated in Manchester Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 4 to wit:
In Manchester, this Court stated that the allegation in the body of the complaint of damages suffered in the amount of P78,000,000.00, and the omission of a specific prayer for that amount, was intended for no other purpose than to evade the payment of correct filing fees if not to mislead the docket clerk in the assessment of the correct fee. The ruling was intended to put a stop to such an irregularity. In the case at bar, however, we note that there is no such irregularity or attempt to mislead in the instant petition before us.
We also note that the Manchester ruling did not become the final statement on the matter. In Sun Insurance Office Ltd. v. Asuncion, 44 the Court ruled:
In the said case, the payment of the correct fee within "a reasonable time" but in no case beyond its applicable prescriptive or reglementary period was allowed. In another case 45 decided after Manchester, this Court made some more distinctions:
The rule is not as simple and uncomplicated as Manchester makes it appear. There are other determining circumstances, equally important. The timely filing of correct docket fees is jurisdictional, but as shown by our decisions, considerations of law and equity come into the picture. This situation likewise obtains in the case at bar.
The Sandiganbayan Law itself, Presidential Decree No. 1606, provides:
Petitioner points out that when former President Corazon C. Aquino issued Executive Order No. 14 in 1986 which expanded the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction to include civil cases, she did not repeal or amend Section 11 of P.D. 1606 on filing fees.
Similarly, when Congress in 1994 enacted Republic Act No. 7975 further strengthening the functional and structural organization of the Sandiganbayan, it did not amend the provision on non-payment of fees even as it amended or repealed several sections of the original law. When Congress in 1997 passed Republic Act No. 8429 further amending P.D. 1606, it did not touch the section on non-payment of court fees. If Congress in repealing various parts of P.D. 1606 did not touch Section 11, what is the basis of the Sandiganbayan's ruling on repeal or amendment?
In the resolution submitted to us for review, the Sandiganbayan emphasized that when P.D. No. 1606 was issued, the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court was limited to criminal actions. The Sandiganbayan now tries civil cases. While we are inclined to sustain the ruling that correct filing fees in civil cases must be paid in all courts, including the Sandiganbayan, this does not preclude a ruling that, in this case, the petitioner acted in justifiable good faith. There was ample reason for uncertainty and doubt on the intervenor's part not merely as to the correctness of the amount to be paid but whether or not docket fees should be paid at all.
Equitable considerations are equally significant. Unlike the basis of the Manchester ruling, there is no evidence in the present case that the petitioner tried to evade the payment of correct fees or in any way tried to mislead that court and its employees. On the contrary, petitioner paid dues and asked the Sandiganbayan what are the correct docket fees, if the dues paid are not accurate. When Sandiganbayan came out with its own computation, petitioner paid the corrected amount.
Correctly, petitioner asserted that the Sandiganbayan's resolution, assuming it was correct, was not something that could have been reasonably anticipated by the ordinary litigant.
Indeed, the actions of the Sandiganbayan clearly call for the application of equitable considerations. On February 17, 1989, it admitted the complaint-in-intervention. Answers thereto were filed by PHI and the Cojuangcos. On June 11, 1993, the Sandiganbayan admitted the amended complaint-in-intervention. More important, the lower court denied the motions to dismiss filed by respondents questioning the incorrect payment of docket fees in its resolutions dated April 17, 1995, March 29, 1996 and May 7, 1996. Petitioner was thus led into believing, long before the ten year prescriptive period expired, that its complaint-in-intervention would stay admitted.
However, the Sandiganbayan on October 9, 1996 and October 6, 1997 issued the Resolutions now before us in this petition for review. Petitioner's complaint was dismissed for non-payment of the prescribed docket fees, without obvious regard to the implications of the reversal of its earlier rulings.
Moreover, on October 27, 1994, petitioner filed a motion for the resolution of the issue on correct docket fees. When no decision was forthcoming, petitioner on March 31, 1995 filed a motion to post bond to answer for whatever additional fees that may be assessed later. On April 17, 1995, the Sandiganbayan decided to defer the resolution of respondents' motions to dismiss until trial. Petitioner even elevated the inaction of the Sandiganbayan to the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari but this was dismissed for being premature. It can thus be seen that, far from committing the irregularity illustrated in Manchester, petitioner did the opposite in this case.
More specifically, petitioner's alleged causes of action before the Sandiganbayan constitute the following:
Considering that petitioner seeks to recover properties, the ownership and possession of which he was allegedly deprived through fraud, duress and/or coercion, we hold that, assuming hypothetically these averments to be true, the legal relationship of constructive trust was present among the parties concerned in the said transactions. Constructive trust is that created by reason of equity to answer the demands of justice and prevent unjust enrichment. It arises against one, who, by fraud, duress or abuse of confidence, obtains or holds the legal right to property which he ought not, in equity and good conscience, hold. 46
Correspondingly, actions thereon prescribe after ten (10) years as provided by Article 1144 of the Civil Code:
Under normal circumstances, petitioner's cause of action should have prescribed on February 26, 1996, a month before petitioner was ordered by the Sandiganbayan to pay docket fees or two months before the docket fees were actually paid in the corrected amount of P14,825.00. However, we hold that said payment could not be construed as belatedly made such as to foreclose the prosecution of his claims.
It should be noted that when the issue on docket fees was raised, petitioner submitted the determination of the same to the sound discretion of the Sandiganbayan. As earlier stated, he sought for the immediate resolution of this issue as early as October 27, 1994. In the alternative, petitioner proposed to post a bond to answer for the docket fees, if such are payable. He even filed a petition for certiorari, docketed as G.R. No. 123264, to seek an early resolution of this issue.
Clearly, petitioner did not sleep on his rights, and prescription has not set in to bar his right to seek judicial relief. The essence of the statute of limitations is to prevent fraudulent claims arising from unwarranted length of time and not to defeat actions asserted on the honest belief that they were sufficiently submitted for judicial determination.
To punish petitioner for public respondent's failure to timely decide an issue pivotal to the success of his case would be setting a bad precedent. It would give trial courts unbridled power and an unfair weapon to frustrate the filing of actions. We hold that public respondent's belated action after prolonged inaction on the issue of petitioner's payment of docket fees is a supervening event beyond the independent will and control of petitioner that tolled the running of the prescriptive period. Article 1154 of the Civil Code is applicable by parallelism, to wit:
As earlier stated, equity and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the present case necessitate this ruling. For among the parties in the case at bar, the Sandiganbayan is the most equipped to afford petitioner the opportunity to present his claims. Not only that, but going back to the pronouncements of this Court in Sun Insurance Office, Ltd. (SIOL) v. Asuncion, 47 where we recognized that the sufficiency of the docket fees is a matter for the determination of the clerk of court and/or his duly authorized docket clerk or clerk in-charge, the Sandiganbayan could have immediately drawn petitioner's attention if its clerk of court found difficulty in determining the amount of chargeable docket fees from a reading of the complaint. Even in the celebrated case of Manchester Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 48 the trial court directed the plaintiff therein to rectify the flaws in its amended complaint. That way, not only could the Sandiganbayan have seasonably resolved the issues on docket fees but it could very well have timely settled petitioner's dilemma on what to do and what was required to preserve his rights.
Courts are mandated to promptly administer justice. Having the inherent power to amend and control the processes and orders, to make them conformable to law and justice 49 we have the avowed duty to uphold the right of all persons to a speedy disposition of their cases and avert the precipitate loss of rights.
While it may be argued that petitioner could have very well amended his complaint and alleged the monetary values of the properties he seeks to recover to comply with Rule 141, Section 7(a) of the Rules of Court, we find, pro hac vice, that petitioner acted in good faith when he contended that proceedings before the Sandiganbayan are free of charge. The present rule must, however, be stressed: parties filing civil actions before the Sandiganbayan are liable to pay the required docket fees. The situation only differs in the case at bar because of petitioner's honest conviction manifested in his filing of a reservation for the payments he made, after having been ordered by the Sandiganbayan on March 29, 1996 to pay the balance of P14,425.00 and after the court denied his motion to post bond pending final resolution of the motion to dismiss.
Be that as it may, petitioner's position that subsequent amendments 50 to PD 1606 did not expressly repeal Section 11 thereof is untenable. Petitioner failed to appreciate that the expansion of the Sandiganbayan's jurisdiction to include civil cases impliedly amended the same and Section 1, Rule IV, Part I of the Revised Rules of the Sandiganbayan. Moreover, the Supreme Court enjoys exclusive power to promulgate the rules on pleading, practice, and procedure.
In addition, Republic Act No. 7975 51 amended Section 9 of P.D. 1606 to read as follows:
Hence, Rule 141 Section 7(a) of the Rules of Court applies to petitioner's complaint and/or amended complaints-in-intervention.
Petitioner argues that R.A. 7975, having been promulgated on March 30, 1995 should not be retroactively applied. This is not so, as statutes regulating the procedure of the courts are applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage, thus, retrospective in such sense and to that
As a final note, petitioner's manifestation that he is withdrawing some of the causes of action alleged in his complaints-in-intervention and the subsequent amendments thereto should be addressed to the Sandiganbayan for proper determination and action. This should be taken into consideration by the Sandiganbayan in determining anew the docket fees payable by petitioner.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is partially GRANTED. The questioned Resolutions are SET ASIDE. Petitioner is ordered to submit to public respondent Sandiganbayan the value of the properties he seeks to recover and to pay the proper docket fees therefor within thirty (30) days upon determination thereof either by the Sandiganbayan or its clerk of court, which in turn is directed to act with dispatch on the matter.
Puno, Kapunan and Pardo, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., C.J., on official leave abroad.
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