[G.R. NO. 159520 : September 19, 2006]
FELISA L. PEÑA, Petitioner, v. GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM (GSIS), Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to set aside and to declare null and void the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53088 dated 24 April 2003 and its Resolution2 dated 14 August 2003, which affirmed the Decision3 of the Office of the President dated 12 May 1999 declaring as valid and subsisting the mortgage between Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc., and herein respondent Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
The antecedent facts of the case are:
On 13 March 1985, herein petitioner Felisa Peña acquired three subdivision lots, covered by Transfer Certificates of Title No. T-89547, No. T-89647, and No. T-89662 of the Register of Deeds of Cavite, from Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc., through its President Isabel Arrieta, by virtue of a Deed of Absolute Sale, with a right to repurchase the same within two months, for the sum of
Thus, on 21 January 1994, petitioner filed a Complaint for Specific Performance, Annulment of Mortgage, and Damages4 before the HLURB Regional Office against Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc., its President Isabel Arrieta, and respondent, asking for the cancellation of the mortgage to respondent and the consolidation of ownership to her, alleging that the mortgage of the subject lots to the respondent was null and void because it had no written approval of the HLURB as required under Presidential Decree No. 957.
Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc. and its President Isabel Arrieta did not file any responsive pleading. Respondent, on the other hand, filed its Answer asserting that the subject properties had been mortgaged, foreclosed, and transferred to its name even before the petitioner purchased the same.
HLURB, through Housing and Land Use Arbiter Cesar A. Manuel, rendered a Decision5 dated 20 December 1995 in favor of petitioner, the dispositive portion of which reads, thus:
On 30 January 1996, respondent filed a Notice of Appeal7 from the afore-mentioned Decision. On 9 February 1996, HLURB Arbiter Manuel issued an Order8 denying the said appeal, citing Sections 22 and 23 of Resolution No. R-537, Series of 1994, "Adopting the 1994 Rules of Procedure of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board,"9 which states that:
Petitioner then claimed that for failure of respondent to file the proper mode of appeal within the reglementary period before the HLURB, its Decision dated 20 December 1995 already became final and executory.11
However, on 25 September 1996, respondent filed a Motion to Declare Judgment Null and Void Ab Initio12 before the Board of Commissioners of the HLURB, claiming that the Regional Office of HLURB had no jurisdiction to resolve the Complaint for it involved title to, possession of, or interest in real estate, the jurisdiction of which belonged to the Regional Trial Court. Respondent also contended that the mortgage transaction was exempt from the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 957 because it was entered into prior to the effectivity of the said decree. Then, on 20 January 1997, the HLURB Board of Commissioners issued an Order13 denying the said Motion for lack of merit.
Dissatisfied, respondent sought reconsideration of the aforesaid Order on 24 April 1997. Still, on 14 July 1997,14 the HLURB Board of Commissioners denied the Motion for Reconsideration of the respondent because the Decision of HLURB dated 20 December 1995 has already become final and executory as early as March 1996.15 The HLURB Board of Commissioners granted, however, the Ex-Parte Motion for Execution dated 20 December 1995 filed by petitioner.
Once again aggrieved, respondent appealed the foregoing Order of the HLURB Board of Commissioners to the Office of the President. On 12 May 1999, the Office of the President issued the assailed Decision, declaring that:
Consequently, on 4 June 1999, petitioner filed a Petition for Review17 under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure before the Court of Appeals alleging that the Office of the President committed the following grave and serious errors, to wit: (1) in not holding that the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 had become final and executory; (2) in not holding that the HLURB Board of Commissioners as well as the Office of the President had no jurisdiction or authority to revive, review, change, or alter the said final and executory Decision dated 20 December 1995; (3) in excusing and ignoring the failure of respondent to file the proper Petition for Review; (4) in not holding that said Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 was supported by substantial evidence, and; (5) in issuing the Decision in question dated 12 May 1999 and in setting aside the Order of the HLURB Board of Commissioners dated 14 July 1997 and holding that the mortgage of subject lots to respondent valid and subsisting.
The Court of Appeals subsequently rendered its Decision on 24 April 2003 denying the Petition for Review filed by petitioner and affirming the Decision of the Office of the President dated 12 May 1999.
On 15 May 2003, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the said Decision. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals in its Resolution dated 14 August 2003 denied said Motion because there were no new or substantial reasons to reverse or even modify the challenged Decision.
Hence, this Petition.
In the petitioner's Memorandum,18 she avers that the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 had long become final and executory for failure of the respondent to seasonably appeal or file a Petition for Review within the reglementary period. Consequently, the Office of the President had no more jurisdictions over such final and executory judgment.
She further argues that a final and executory judgment rendered by the HLURB Regional Office cannot be revived by the filing of a Motion to Declare Judgment Null and Void Ab Initio several months after it had become final and executory.
Finally, she claims that the Court of Appeals may have been misled by the confusing arguments of the respondent and overlooked the fact that the Decision of HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 has already become final and executory. Hence, the Court of Appeals acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion in affirming the Decision of the Office of the President that reversed or changed a final and executory judgment of the HLURB Regional Office.
In contrast, respondent, in its Memorandum,19 maintains that the outright dismissal of its Notice of Appeal by the HLURB Regional Office on the ground that the filing thereof was prohibited under the HLURB Rules, denied respondent justice inasmuch as it has meritorious claims. Thus, the Court of Appeals was correct in affirming the Decision of the Office of the President that set aside the Order of the HLURB Board of Commissioners dated 14 July 1997 and declaring as valid and subsisting the mortgage of the subject lots to respondent.
From the foregoing arguments of the parties, this Court identifies the following issues for resolution in this Petition, to wit:
Noteworthy is that the right to appeal is neither a natural right nor a part of due process, except where it is granted by statute in which case it should be exercised in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law.20 In other words, appeal is a right of statutory and not of constitutional origin.21 The perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period prescribed by law is not only mandatory but also jurisdictional22 and the failure of a party to conform to the rules regarding appeal will render the judgment final and executory and, hence, unappealable,23 for it is more important that a case be settled than it be settled right.24 Furthermore, it is axiomatic that final and executory judgments can no longer be attacked by any of the parties or be modified, directly or indirectly, even by the highest court of the land.25 Just as the losing party has the right to file an appeal within the prescribed period, so also the winning party has the correlative right to enjoy the finality of the resolution of the case.26
Under Section 2227 of the 1994 Rules of Procedure of the HLURB, no Motion for Reconsideration of or a mere Notice of Petition from the Decision shall be entertained. What are required under said HLURB Rules are for the aggrieved party to file a Petition for Review within 30 days from receipt of the Decision on any legal ground and upon payment of the review fee.
In the case at bar, it must be noted that after the HLURB Regional Office rendered its 20 December 1995 Decision, respondent, instead of filing a Petition for Review within 30 days from receipt of the said Decision which was the proper mode of appeal before the HLURB Board of Commissioners, opted to file a mere Notice of Appeal on 30 January 1996 which was denied in the Order of HLURB Arbiter Manuel dated 9 February 1996 because it was prohibited by the Rules of HLURB. Consequently, for failure of the respondent to file the proper mode of appeal within the reglementary period, the afore-mentioned Decision of the HLURB became final and executory as early as March 1996.
It is true, as the Court of Appeals mentioned in its Decision, that rules of procedure are mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice and their strict and rigid application which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, must always be avoided28 and they cannot be blindly adhered to if they would serve no other purpose than to put into oblivion the very lis mota of the controversy under scrutiny.29 However, there are certain procedural rules that must remain inviolable like those setting the periods for perfecting an appeal or filing a Petition for Review, for it is doctrinally entrenched that the right to appeal is a statutory right and one who seeks to avail of that right must comply with the statute or rules. These rules, particularly the requirements for perfecting an appeal within the reglementary period specified in the law, must be strictly followed as they are considered indispensable interdictions against needless delays and for orderly discharge of judicial business.30
The Notice of Appeal filed by the respondent cannot equate to the Petition for Review required by the HLURB Rules. The Notice of Appeal filed by the respondent merely states that:
whereas, the Petition for Review under Section 23 of the 1994 HLURB Rules must contain the petitioner's assignment of errors on the decision sought to be reviewed, the issues to be resolved, the law on which it is based and the arguments in support thereof. There is a wide difference between Notice of Appeal and a Petition for Review in terms of substance that the relaxation of the rigid rules of procedure cannot be permitted.
Furthermore, it was highly improbable for the respondent to be so unmindful of the HLURB Rules of Procedure regarding the proper mode of appeal. Additionally, it must be noted that when respondent filed its Notice of Appeal, it did not even state the reason why instead of filing a Petition for Review it filed a Notice of Appeal. Hence, HLURB Arbiter Manuel of the Regional Office cannot be faulted when he denied respondent's Notice of Appeal as it was prohibited under the HLURB Rules. Also, there is nothing to prevent the 20 December 1995 Decision of the HLURB Arbiter Manuel from becoming final and executory since respondent failed to perfect its appeal in the manner and within the period provided for in the HLURB Rules. Where a party does not institute the correct mode of appeal such as a Petition for Review instead of a mere Notice of Appeal, he loses it.32
Since the 20 December 1995 Decision of HLURB Regional Office was already final and executory, no court, not even the highest court of the land, can revive, review, change or alter the same. It is already well settled in our jurisdiction that the decisions and orders of administrative agencies rendered pursuant to their quasi-judicial authority, have, upon their finality, the force and binding effect of a final judgment within the purview of the doctrine of res judicata. The rule of res judicata, which forbids the reopening of a matter once judicially determined by competent authority, applies as well to the judicial and quasi-judicial acts of public, executive, or administrative officers and boards acting within their jurisdiction.33
In view of the foregoing, the Motion to Declare Judgment Null and Void Ab Initio filed by respondent on 25 September 1996, or after so many months from the finality of the Decision it seeks to be declared null and void, can no longer be entertained by the HLURB Board of Commissioners. The same was just an attempt to reinstate an appeal that had already been lost. Even granting arguendo that the said Motion was proper, still, the allegation therein of the respondent that the HLURB Regional Office had no jurisdiction over the case because it involved title to, possession of, or interest in real estate, the jurisdiction of which supposedly belonged to the Regional Trial Court, was not sufficient to warrant the declaration of the Decision of the HLURB as null and void. Such ground relied upon by the respondent is untenable because the jurisdiction involving unsound real estate practices and other matters in connection thereto belongs to HLURB.
It must be remembered that Presidential Decre No. 1344 of 2 April 1978 expanded the jurisdiction of the National Housing Authority (NHA) to include the following:
On 7 February 1981, Executive Order No. 648 transferred the regulatory and quasi-judicial functions of the NHA to Human Settlements Regulatory Commission.
Executive Order No. 90 dated 17 December 1986 changed the name of the Human Settlements Regulatory Commission to Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).34
When an administrative agency or body is conferred quasi-judicial functions, all controversies relating to the subject matter pertaining to its specialization are deemed to be included within the jurisdiction of said administrative agency or body. Split jurisdiction is not favored.35 Therefore, the Complaint for Specific Performance, Annulment of Mortgage, and Damages filed by petitioner against respondent, though involving title to, possession of, or interest in real estate, was well within the jurisdiction of the HLURB for it involves a claim against the subdivision developer, Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc., as well as respondent.
Attention should also be called to the fact that respondent failed to act promptly to protect its rights after HLURB Arbiter Manuel denied its Notice of Appeal. It did not even offer an explanation why it took many months before it filed its Motion to Declare Judgment Null and Void Ab Initio with the HLURB Board of Commissioners. For such inaction of the respondent for a long period of time, the 20 December 1995 Decision of the HLURB Regional Office became final and executory and that was the price respondent had to pay for its delayed reaction.
Thus, when the Office of the President acted upon the appeal of the respondent and thereby reversing the final and executory Decision of the HLURB Regional Office, it acted without jurisdiction. It bears stressing that after the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office had become final and executory as early as March 1996, even the Office of the President had no more jurisdiction to revive, review, change or alter the same. Such final resolution or decision of an administrative agency also binds the Office of the President even if such agency is under the administrative supervision and control of the latter.36
In sum, the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 had become final and executory for failure of respondent to perfect an appeal within the reglementary period in the manner provided for in the HLURB Rules. Hence, the said Decision became immutable; it can no longer be amended nor altered by the Office of the President. Accordingly, inasmuch as the timely perfection of an appeal is a jurisdictional requisite, the Office of the President had no more authority to entertain the appeal of the respondent. Otherwise, any amendment or alteration made which substantially affects the final and executory judgment would be null and void for lack of jurisdiction.37
This Court had stated before that administrative decisions must end sometime, as fully as public policy demands that finality be written on judicial controversies. Public interest requires that proceedings already terminated should not be altered at every step, for the rule of non quieta movere prescribes that what had already been terminated should not be disturbed. A disregard of this principle does not commend itself to sound public policy.38
The rule on finality of decisions, orders or resolutions of a judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative body is "not a question of technicality but of substance and merit," the underlying consideration therefore, being the protection of the substantive rights of the winning party.39 Nothing is more settled in law than that a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable and may no longer be modified in any respect even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land.40
The reason for this is that litigation must end and terminate sometime and somewhere, and it is essential to an effective and efficient administration of justice that once a judgment has become final, the winning party be not deprived of the fruits of the verdict. Court must guard against any scheme calculated to bring about that result and must frown upon any attempt to prolong the controversies. The only exceptions to the general rule are the correction of clerical errors, the so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party, void judgments, and whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable.41
The orderly administration of justice requires that the judgments/resolutions of a court or quasi-judicial body must reach a point of finality set by the law, rules, and regulations. The noble purpose is to write finis to dispute once and for all. This is a fundamental principle in our justice system, without which there would be no end to litigations. Utmost respect and adherence to this principle must always be maintained by those who exercise the power of adjudication. Any act, which violates such principle, must immediately be struck down.42 Indeed, the principle of conclusiveness of prior adjudications is not confined in its operation to the judgments of what are ordinarily known as courts, but it extends to all bodies upon which judicial powers had been conferred.43
As a final point. Having said that the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 had become final and executory, it was, therefore, a reversible error on the part of the Court of Appeals to affirm the Decision of the Office of the President reversing the HLURB Regional Office, because such Decision was rendered by the Office of the President without jurisdiction. Hence, when the Court of Appeals affirmed the Decision of the Office of the President, it likewise acted without jurisdiction. Well-settled is the rule that once a judgment has become final and executory, no court, not even this Court, has the power to revive, review, change or alter the same.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition is hereby GRANTED. Both the Court of Appeals and the Office of the President have no more jurisdictions to review much more to reverse the 20 December 1995 Decision of the HLURB Regional Office, as it was already final and executory. Thus, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 24 April 2003 and its Resolution dated 14 August 2003 affirming the Decision of the Office of the President dated 12 May 1999 declaring as valid and subsisting the mortgage between Queen's Row Subdivision, Inc. and herein respondent are SET ASIDE and the Decision of the HLURB Regional Office dated 20 December 1995 is hereby REINSTATED. No costs.
Panganiban, C.J., Chairperson, Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
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