April 2009 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 158071 - JOSE SANTOS v. COMMITTEE ON CLAIMS SETTLEMENT, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 158071 : April 2, 2009]
JOSE SANTOS, Petitioner, v. COMMITTEE ON CLAIMS SETTLEMENT, and GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM (GSIS), Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Decision1 dated January 6, 2003, and Resolution2 dated April 22, 2003 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 65163, entitled "Jose Santos v. Committee on Claims Settlement and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS)."
The facts are as follows:
On August 16, 1986, petitioner Jose S. Santos retired from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) pursuant to Republic Act (R.A.) 16163 after rendering almost 21 years of service.
On January 2, 1989, petitioner was re-employed in the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon.
In 1997, petitioner initiated moves to avail of early retirement under R.A. 660.4 He requested and received from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Operating Unit a tentative computation of retirement benefits under R.A. 660 amounting to
P667,937.40. Petitioner formally applied for retirement under R.A. 660 in January 1998.
However, in a Letter5 dated May 4, 1998, the GSIS Operating Unit informed petitioner that he could no longer retire under R.A. 660 but he could do so under R.A. 8291,6 under which petitioner is entitled to a reduced benefit of
P81,557.20. This computation did not consider petitioner's 20.91553 years of service with the DAR prior to his previous retirement.
Petitioner appealed to respondent GSIS Committee on Claims. Unfortunately, respondent affirmed the GSIS Operating Unit's computation under R.A. 8291.
On August 25, 1999, petitioner filed with the GSIS Board of Trustees a complaint against respondent docketed as GSIS Case No. 002-99.
On February 15, 2000, the GSIS Board of Trustees rendered a decision7 denying petitioner's complaint, thus:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered denying Petitioner Jose S. Santos' Petition to be allowed to retire under the pension plan under RA 660, and modifying the Resolution of the Government Service Insurance System's Committee on Claims Settlement adopted in its Committee Meeting No. 158 held on September 23, 1996, insofar as it limits Petitioner's mode of retirement to that provided in RA 8291. The Operating Unit concerned is ordered to process Petitioner's retirement effective March 21, 2000 under the gratuity retirement of RA 1616 or the pension retirement under RA 8291 after he formally indicates which mode he would like to avail of.
In the meantime, on March 20, 2000, petitioner was compulsorily retired for reaching the age of sixty-five.
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the February 15, 2000 decision of the Board of Trustees. He attached documentary evidence to his motion which showed several retirees who were later on reemployed after their first retirement and were allowed to choose the law under which they can again retire. Thus, like them, he should also be allowed to retire under the law of his choice. The GSIS Board of Trustees denied his motion for reconsideration on March 27, 2001.
Aggrieved, petitioner filed with the CA a Petition for Review under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
On January 6, 2003, the CA rendered the herein challenged decision dismissing the petition for lack of jurisdiction. It ruled as follows:8
This Court is of the belief, however, that the focal issue raised herein, i.e., whether or not the petitioner can choose to retire under either Republic Act 8291 or Republic Act 660, is a pure question of law. As such, this Court is not vested with jurisdiction to take cognizance of this case since there is no dispute with respect to the fact that when an appeal raised only pure question of law, it is only the Supreme Court which has jurisdiction to entertain the same (Article VIII, Section 5 (2) (e), 1987 Constitution; Rule 45, Rules of Court; see also Santos, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 152 SCRA ).
xx xxx xxx
As can be seen from both parties['] arguments, the instant case calls for the determination of what the law is on the particular situation of herein petitioner, i.e., whether RA 660 is applicable in his case or only that of RA 8291, or both. Such question does not call for an examination of the probative value of the evidence presented by the parties because there is no dispute as to the truth or falsity of the facts obtaining in the case.
Hence, the procedure adopted by the petitioner in this case is improper. The proper procedure that should have been followed was to file a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court within 15 days from notice of judgment pointing out errors of law that will warrant a reversal or modification of the decision or judgment sought to be reviewed.
x x x
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. (emphasis ours)
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration but the CA denied the same in its Resolution dated April 22, 2003.
Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari with the following assignment of errors:
1. The Honorable Court of Appeals committed an error of law in holding that CA-G.R. SP No. 65163 entitled Jose S. Santos v. Committee on Claims Settlement, GSIS raises only questions of law, hence the proper remedy for petitioner is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45;
2. The Honorable Court of Appeals committed an error in not giving due course to the petition as it raises questions of law only; a reading thereof shows that factual issues are raised therein. The said dismissal left unresolved the questions of law and facts raised in CA-G.R. SP No. 65163;
3. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in not reversing the decision of the GSIS of February 15, 2000, it being contrary to law.
4. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in dismissing CA-G.R. SP No. 65163, allegedly for lack of jurisdiction.
Petitioner avers that the CA erred in dismissing his petition which raised both questions of law and fact which are well within its jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. According to petitioner the petition raised factual issues which necessitated the review of the records of the re-employed retirees who were allowed by the GSIS to retire under the law of their choice. Petitioner further avers that even if CA-G.R. SP No. 65163 raises only questions of law, the same is still within the jurisdiction of the CA pursuant to Section 31 of Republic Act No. 8291, which provides that appeals from any decision or award by the Board of Trustees shall be governed by Rules 43 and 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
Respondent, on the other hand, maintains that the proper remedy of petitioner is to file a Petition for Review under Rule 45 and not under Rule 43, there being only pure questions of law involved in the case. Hence, the CA correctly dismissed the petition before it.
We deal first with the procedural issue raised by petitioner.
Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure clearly states:
Section 1. Scope. - This Rule shall apply to appeals from judgments or final orders of the Court of Tax Appeals and from awards, judgments, final orders or resolutions of or authorized by any quasi-judicial agency in the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions. Among these agencies are the Civil Service Commission, Central Board of Assessment Appeals, Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of the President, Land Registration Authority, Social Security Commission, Civil Aeronautics Board, Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer, National Electrification Administration, Energy Regulatory Board, National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Agrarian Reform under Republic Act 6657, Government Service Insurance System, Employees Compensation Commission, Agricultural Inventions Board, Insurance Commission, Philippine Atomic Energy Commission, Board of Investments, Construction Industry Arbitration Commission, and voluntary arbitrators authorized by law.
x x x
Section 3. Where to appeal. - An appeal under this Rule may be taken to the Court of Appeals within the period and in the manner herein provided, whether the appeal involves questions of fact, of law, or mixed questions of fact and law. (emphasis ours)
In Posadas-Moya and Associates Construction Co., Inc. v. Greenfield Development Corporation, et al.,9 the Court distinguished a question of law from one of fact, thus:
A question of law exists when there is doubt or controversy on what the law is on a certain state of facts. There is a question of fact when the doubt or difference arises from the truth or the falsity of the allegations of facts.
Explained the Court:
"A question of law exists when the doubt or controversy concerns the correct application of law or jurisprudence to a certain set of facts; or when the issue does not call for an examination of the probative value of the evidence presented, the truth or falsehood of facts being admitted. A question of fact exists when the doubt or difference arises as to the truth or falsehood of facts or when the query invites calibration of the whole evidence considering mainly the credibility of the witnesses, the existence and relevancy of specific surrounding circumstances as well as their relation to each other and to the whole, and the probability of the situation."
Thus, the question on whether petitioner can retire under RA 660 or RA 8291 is undoubtedly a question of law because it centers on what law to apply in his case considering that he has previously retired from the government under a particular statute and that he was re-employed by the government. These facts are admitted and there is no need for an examination of the probative value of the evidence presented.
As a general rule, appeals on pure questions of law are brought to this Court since Sec. 5 (2) (e), Art. VIII of the Constitution includes in the enumeration of cases within its jurisdiction "all cases in which only an error or question of law is involved."10 It should not be overlooked, however, that the same provision vesting jurisdiction in this Court of the cases enumerated therein is prefaced by the statement that it may "review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari as the law or the Rules of Court may provide," the judgments or final orders of lower courts in the cases therein enumerated.11 Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure constitutes an exception to the aforesaid general rule on appeals. Rule 43 provides for an instance where an appellate review solely on a question of law may be sought in the CA instead of this Court.
Undeniably, an appeal to the CA may be taken within the reglementary period to appeal whether the appeal involves questions of fact, law, or mixed questions of fact and law. As such, a question of fact or question of law alone or a mix question of fact and law may be appealed to the CA via Rule 43. Thus, in Carpio v. Sulu Resources Development Corporation,12 we held:
According to Section 3 of Rule 43, "[a]n appeal under this Rule may be taken to the Court of Appeals within the period and in the manner herein provided whether the appeal involves questions of fact, of law, or mixed questions of fact and law." Hence, appeals from quasi-judicial agencies even only on questions of law may be brought to the CA. (emphasis ours)
However, a remand of the case to the CA would serve no useful purpose, since the core issue in this case, i.e., under which law petitioner can retire, can already be resolved based on the records of the proceedings before the GSIS. A remand would unnecessarily impose on the parties the concomitant difficulties and expenses of another proceeding where they would have to present the same evidence and arguments again. This clearly runs counter to the Rules of Court, which mandates liberal construction of the Rules to attain just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of any action or proceeding.13
We now discuss petitioner's arguments on the merits.
It is well settled that the construction given to a statute by an administrative agency charged with the interpretation and application of that statute is entitled to great respect and should be accorded great weight by the courts.14 In the case at bar, this Court finds that the GSIS' ruling as to which retirement law is applicable to petitioner deserves full faith and credit. Petitioner fails to convince us that there are justifiable reasons to depart from the GSIS' decision in his case.
As pertinently discussed by the GSIS Board of Trustees, the grant of the right to choose a mode of retirement in Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1146 is found in Section 13. It was reproduced in Section 11 (c), Rule IV of the Implementing Rules and Regulations on the Revised GSIS Act of 1977, adopted by the System's Board of Trustees pursuant to Board Resolution 223-78, stating that:
(c) Employees who were in the government service at the time of the effectivity of Presidential Decree No. 1146 shall, at the time of their retirement, have the option to retire under said Decree or under Commonwealth Act No. 186, as previously amended.
On August 28, 1980, the GSIS Board of Trustees, in Board Resolution No. 583-80, adopted the following amendment to Section 11 (c), Rule IV of the Implementing Rules for PD 1146, upon the recommendation of the Committee on Gray Areas:
(c) Employees who were in the government service at the time of the effectivity of PD 1146 shall at the time of their retirement have the option to retire under said Decree or under CA 186 as previously amended Provided, that in the event the member is reinstated in the service after having exercised the option to retire under RA 1616 he shall subsequently be retireable under PD 1146 only.
On July 19, 1985, P.D. No. 1981 was promulgated amending Section 13 of PD 1146 as follows:
Sec. 13. Retirement Option. - Employees who are in the government service upon the effectivity of this Act shall, at the time of their retirement, have the option to retire under this Act or under Commonwealth Act No. 186, as amended, and their benefits and entitlement thereto shall be determined in accordance with the provisions of the law so opted: Provided, however, That in the event of re-employment, the employee's subsequent retirement shall be governed by the provisions of this Act: Provided further, That the member may change the mode of his retirement within one year from the date of his retirement in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the System. x x x (emphasis ours)
Clearly, the option to retire is preserved under PD 1146 for those who were in the government service upon its effectivity in view of the rule on non-impairment of benefits. There is an apparent gray area when an employee who was in the government service upon the effectivity PD 1146 but opted to retire under one of the previous retirement laws. Once reinstated, are they still entitled, upon reinstatement, to exercise the option to again retire under the old law?cralawred
The GSIS Board of Trustees, in agreement with the Committee on Claims Settlement concluded that Mr. Santos' right to choose the law under which he would retire and be covered by R.A. 660 is no longer available to him because he had already exercised said right when he availed of it during his previous retirement in 1986. In 1986, he chose to forego the benefits of R.A. 660 and retired under R.A. 1616.
When petitioner first retired in 1986, the applicable law to his situation was P.D. 1146 as amended by P.D. 1981. Section 13 of that law (upon which petitioner himself bases his right to choose the law to govern his retirement) expressly states that in the event of re-employment the subsequent retirement shall be governed by P.D. 1146.
Even the Government Corporate Counsel supported such view through its Opinion No. 100, Series of 1981, stating that in the event the member is reinstated in the service after having exercised the option to retire under RA 1616, he shall subsequently be retireable under PD 1146 only.
All employees of the government are covered by PD 1146 upon its effectivity. Only employees who are in the government service upon the effectivity of the said law who shall have, at the time of retirement, the option to retire under the old law or CA 186 (otherwise known as the Government Service Insurance Act, or the GSIS Charter) are exempt from the coverage of PD 1146.
The foregoing applies notwithstanding the rule in Section 44 on non-impairment of benefits that have become vested under the old law. Pursuant to the rule on prospectivity of laws, employees who have previously retired under CA 186 and were reinstated after the effectivity of the new law are already covered by the new law, not because they are deemed new or original employees, but by mere prospective operation of the new law in force at the time they reentered the service.chanrobles virtual law library
The same view was shared by the Government Corporate Counsel, in its Opinion No. 154, Series of 1997, dated July 14, 1997, when it ruled that the legislature intended to withhold the availability of retirement option from those who have been re-employed and are retiring for the second time. If the intent was otherwise, then the said proviso should have also expressly stated so and/or said proviso should not have been included at all. It stated, thus:
One of the purposes for the passage of P.D. 1981 is to clarify the parties to whom the retirement option in Section 13 of P.D. 1146 is available, thus:
WHEREAS, there have been conflicting interpretations of certain provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1146, particularly as for whether or not elective public officials are covered by the GSIS for the duration of their term of office; whether or not a public officer or employee who is separated for cause or considered resigned automatically forfeits his retirement benefits; and whether or not public officers and employees in the government service at the time Presidential Decree No. 1146 took effect have the option of retiring under the said Decree or Commonwealth Act No. 186, as amended:
WHEREAS, conflicting claims for benefits have invariably been filed under the different laws administered by the GSIS, which have oftentimes resulted in unnecessary litigation, delay and inconvenience on the part of the rightful claimants.
x x x
WHEREAS, it has thus become necessary to amend Presidential Decree No. 1146 to clarify some of its provisions to make it more responsive to the needs of the members of the GSIS and to assure the actuarial solvency of the Funds administered by the GSIS during these times of grave economic crisis affecting the country. (Underscoring ours)
With this legislative purpose in mind, the amendment of Section 13 of P.D. 1981, to include a proviso that in the event of re-employment of a member his subsequent retirement shall be governed by P.D. 1146, shows the clear legislative intent to withhold the availability of retirement option from those who have been re-employed and are retiring for the second time. If the intent was otherwise, then the said proviso should have also expressly stated so and/or said proviso should not have been included at all.
Thus, the last proviso in Section 13 of P.D. 1146, as amended, granting the right to change the mode of retirement within one year, may not be considered as referring to the immediately preceding section, which is the proviso stating that subsequent retirements shall be governed by P.D. 1146. Such interpretation would only render both provisos inconsistent and conflicting with one another and effectively meaningless because even if the first proviso removes the option, the second proviso prescribes the period by which the option may be exercised. It has been held that statutes must be interpreted in such a way as to give a sensible meaning to the language of the statutes and thus avoid non-sensical or absurd results (People v. Duque, 212 SCRA 607; Automatic Parts and Equipment v. Lingad, 30 SCRA 247, as cited in Agpalo, op. Cit., pp. 114-115). Thus, a better and more sensible interpretation of Section 13 of P.D. 1146 as amended is that the last proviso refers to the first part of the section which states to whom the option is given. In other words, government employees who are in the service at the time of the effectivity of P.D. 1146 have the option to retire under CA 186 or P.D. 1146 and if said option is exercised, they may change the mode of retirement chosen or opted within one year from date of retirement. Once the retired employees are however re-employed, they shall subsequently retire only under P.D. 1146.
Further, this Court notes that when petitioner formally applied for retirement in 1998 R.A. 8291 which amended P.D. 1146 was already in force and it was indubitably the law applicable to his second retirement. In contrast, the examples of subsequent retirements of re-employed government employees cited by petitioner were all prior to the effectivity of R.A. 8291.
Significantly, Section 3 of R.A. 8291 provides:
SEC. 3. Repealing Clause. - All laws and any other law or parts of law specifically inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed or modified accordingly: Provided, That the rights under the existing laws, rules and regulations vested upon or acquired by an employee who is already in the service as of the effectivity of this Act shall remain in force and effect: Provided, further, That subsequent to the effectivity of this Act, a new employee or an employee who has previously retired or separated and is reemployed in the service shall be covered by the provisions of this Act. (emphasis ours)
In addition, Section 10 (b) of P.D. 1146, as amended by R.A. 8291, states:
(b) All service credited for retirement, resignation or separation for which corresponding benefits have been awarded under this Act or other laws shall be excluded in the computation of service in case of reinstatement in the service of an employer and subsequent retirement or separation which is compensable under this Act.
As such, we find nothing objectionable in the following provisions of the GSIS' the Rules and Regulations Implementing R.A. 8291 which provides:
Section 8.6. Effect of Re-employment. - When a retiree is re-employed, his/her previous services credited at the time of his/her retirement shall be excluded in the computation of future benefits. In effect, he/she shall be considered a new entrant. (emphasis ours)
Additionally, Section 5.2 of the same implementing rules states that all service credited for retirement, resignation or separation for which corresponding benefits have been awarded shall be excluded in the computation of service in case of re-employment.
As a re-employed member of the government service who is retiring during the effectivity of RA 8291, petitioner cannot have his previous government service with the DAR credited in the computation of his retirement benefit. Neither can he choose a mode of retirement except that provided under R.A. 8291.
All told, even if we find that the CA committed reversible error when it dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the petition filed before it, we see no reason to deviate from the findings of the GSIS. Hence, the instant petition must necessarily fail.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED.
* Additional member in lieu of Justice Arturo D. Brion as per Special Order No. 588. Per Special Order No. 570, Justice Arturo D. Brion has been designated as an additional member in view of the retirement of Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Eloy R. Bello, Jr. (ret.) and concurred in by Associate Justices Cancio C. Garcia (retired member of this Court) and Sergio L. Pestaño, rollo, pp. 34-39.
2 Rollo, p. 41.
3 An Act Further Amending Section Twelve of Commonwealth Act Numbered One Hundred Eighty-Six, as Amended, by Prescribing Two Other Modes of Retirement and for Other Purposes; Gratuity benefit plus return of contribution.
4 Pension benefit, that is, 5 year lump sum pension and after 5 years, life time pension.
5 Record, pp. 57-59.
6 An Act Amending Presidential Decree No. 1146, as amended, Expanding and Increasing the Coverage and Benefit of the Government Service Insurance System, Instituting Reforms therein and for Other Purposes, which took effect on June 24, 1997.
7 Rollo, pp. 43-52.
8 Id. at 37-38.
9 G.R. No. 141115, June 10, 2003, 403 SCRA 530, 542.
10 Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Volume 1, Seventh Revised Edition, pp. 523-524.
12 G.R. No. 148267, August 8, 2002, 387 SCRA 128, 140.
13 Morales v. Court of Appeals and Policarpio C. Estrella, G.R. No. 126196, January 28, 1998, 285 SCRA 337, 347 which discussed Section 2 (now Section 6), Rule 1 of the Rules of Court.
14 Nestle Philippines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals,G.R. No. 86738, November 13, 1991, 203 SCRA 505, 510; Bagatsing v. Committee on Privatization, G.R. No. 112399, July 14, 1995, 246 SCRA 334.