ESTER B. MARALIT, Petitioner, v. JESUSA CORAZON L. IMPERIAL, respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision, dated August 26, 1997, and the resolution, dated September 29, 1997, of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City (Branch 21) in Special Civil Case No. RTC 97-3744.
The facts are as follows:
Petitioner Ester B. Maralit filed three complaints for estafa
through falsification of commercial documents through reckless imprudence
against respondent Jesusa Corazon L. Imperial.[1
Maralit alleged that she was assistant manager of the Naga City branch of the
Philippine National Bank (PNB); that on May 20, 1992, June 1, 1992, and July 1,
1992 respondent Imperial
deposited in her savings account at the PNB three United States treasury
warrants bearing USTW Nos. 2034-91254963, 2034-91180047, and 2034-33330760 and
on the same days withdrew their peso equivalent of
and P130,326.00, respectively; and that the treasury warrants were
subsequently returned one after the other by the United States Treasury,
through the Makati branch of the Citibank, on the ground that the amounts
thereof had been altered. Maralit claimed that, as a consequence, she was held
personally liable by the PNB for the total amount of P320,287.30.
In her counter-affidavit, respondent claimed that she merely helped a relative, Aida Abengoza, encash the treasury warrants; that she deposited the treasury warrants in her savings account and then withdrew their peso equivalent with the approval of petitioner; that she gave the money to Aida Abengoza; that she did not know that the amounts on the treasury warrants had been altered nor did she represent to petitioner that the treasury warrants were genuine; and that upon being informed of the dishonor of the warrants she immediately contacted Aida Abengoza and signed an acknowledgment of debt promising to pay the total amount of the treasury warrants.
After preliminary investigation, the City Prosecutor of Naga City filed three informations against respondent in the Municipal Trial Court of Naga City (Branch 3).
On September 26, 1996, judgment was rendered as follows:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing considerations, the Court finds no ground to hold the accused criminally liable for which she is charged, hence Corazon Jesusa L. Imperial is ACQUITTED of all the charges against her. The accused however is civilly liable as indorser of the checks which is (sic) the subject matter of the criminal action.[2
The decision having become final and executory, the MTC, on November 11, 1996, ordered the enforcement of the civil liability against the accused arising from the criminal action.[3 The writ of execution, dated December 9, 1996, directed the sheriff as follows:[4
NOW, THEREFORE, you are hereby commanded to cause the execution of the aforesaid judgment in the amount of THREE HUNDRED TWENTY THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX & 46/100 (P320,286.46) ONLY, equivalent to the amount of the 3 three US$ checks amounting to $12,621.13, and to levy the goods and chattels of the defendant/s, except those which are exempt from execution and to make the sale thereat in accordance with the procedure outlined by Rule 39, Revised Rules of Court and such cases made and provided, together with all your lawful fees for the services of this writ.
Accordingly, the sheriff served a notice of garnishment on the PNB.
Respondent at first moved to declare her savings account exempt from execution on the ground that the same represented her salary as an employee of the Commission on Audit, which was not even sufficient for her expenses and that of her family. Later, she moved to quash the writ of execution on the ground that the judgment did not order the accused to pay [a] specific amount of money to a particular person as it merely adjudicated the criminal aspect but not the civil aspect hence there was no judgment rendered which can be the subject of execution.
Both motions of respondent were denied by the MTC for lack of merit in its order, dated February 24, 1997.[5 Accordingly, an alias writ of execution was issued.
On April 14, 1997, respondent filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition in the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, contending that the writ of execution issued by the MTC was at variance with the judgment in the criminal cases.
The RTC issued a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining
enforcement of the writ of execution issued by the MTC.
On August 26, 1997, it rendered a decision,
which, among other things, made permanent the injunction. The RTC held that the
decision of the MTC did not really find respondent liable for
because in fact it was petitioner who was found responsible for making the
Petitioner moved for reconsideration alleging that respondent filed her petition for certiorari and prohibition more than three months after the MTC had ordered execution of its decision on November 11, 1996. However, her motion was denied on September 28, 1997.[6 The RTC held that the three-month period should be counted from April 1, 1997, when the alias writ of execution was issued, or from April 7, 1997, when the MTC denied private respondents motion for reconsideration of the order denying her motion to quash the writ of execution. The RTC likewise found the second ground of petitioners motion for reconsideration, i.e., that its decision was contrary to law and jurisprudence, devoid of merit.
Hence, this petition. Petitioner raises the following issues:[7
1. Whether respondents Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court was filed out of time;
2. Whether this case warrants the relaxation of the rule that Certiorari is not a substitute for a lost or lapsed appeal.
3. Whether or not the MTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, when it issued the Order of Execution, Writ of Execution and Alias Writ of Execution to implement its final and executory civil judgment in Criminal Cases No. 68697, 68698 and 68699, which reads: . . . The accused however is civilly liable as indorser of the checks subject matter of the criminal action.
4. Whether or not the MTC merely adjudicated the criminal aspect but not the civil aspect of Criminal Cases 68697, 68698 and 68699.
5. Whether there was substantial variance as between the dispositive portion of the civil judgment and the writ of execution issued thereunder.
6. Whether or not a court exercising certiorari jurisdiction has the authority to modify or alter the final and executory decision of the lower court even by way of an obiter dictum.
Petitioner contends that the phrase civilly liable in the judgment part of the MTCs decision also connotes an order to pay on respondents part.
It may fairly be assumed that the decision of the MTC was an adjudication of both the criminal and civil liability of respondent inasmuch as it does not appear that petitioner instituted a separate civil action or reserved or waived the right to bring such action. The question is whether the decision of the MTC finds respondent civilly liable and, in the affirmative, for how much. As already stated, the RTC held that the MTC did not really find respondent liable. In reaching that conclusion, the RTC said:
A mere reading of the dispositive portion of the judgment and the writ of execution will readily show that there is variance between the two. Whereas, the judgment pronounced [respondent herein] to be civilly liable as indorser of the checks which is the subject matter of the criminal action, the writ of execution commanded the Sheriff to cause the execution of the aforesaid judgment in the amount of THREE HUNDRED TWENTY THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX & 46/100 (P320,286.46) ONLY, equivalent to the amount of the 3 three US$ checks amounting to $12,621.13, . . . . In the judgment, nothing is mentioned about the amount for which [respondent herein] is liable as indorser, but in the writ of execution, the civil liability of the [respondent herein] has already been fixed at P320,286.46. The variance, therefore, between the judgment and the writ of execution is substantial because it consists of the addition of the amount of the civil liability of the [respondent herein].
. . . .
. . . The [MTCs] findings of facts and conclusions of law as expressed in the body of the decision do not support the dispositive portion of the judgment that [respondent herein] is civilly liable. On the contrary a reading of the body of the judgment in question will show that [respondent] is not civilly liable. For three (3) times, the Court stated in the body of its decision that it is [petitioner] Maralit herself who should be faulted and be held responsible for the payment of the dishonored US Dollar checks.
Hereunder quoted are portions of the body of the decision in question showing that [respondent] herein should not be held civilly liable and that it was [petitioner] Maralit who should be blamed and be held responsible:
. . . The Court however is quite intrigue[d] on why the accused was allowed to encash the peso equivalent despite the fact that the check was deposited for collection and clearing. It is the established procedure of banks that out of town checks and US Treasury Warrants should first be cleared before the same is to be paid. More so if the holder is a second indorser. The private complainant in this regard explained that [as assistant branch manager] she has the discretion and that there is no hold order appearing in the savings account of the accused. She likewise explained that she trusted the accused whom she knew is working in the same building and a depositor. In short she took the risk of approving the withdrawal of the peso equivalent, without the check being cleared and if the same is dishonored she should be responsible. (page 5, judgment).
The information accuses the accused for disregarding the banking laws and procedure of the PNB. This is a generous statement. In the first place the accused is not an employee of the bank. She has no control nor supervision over its employees. If there is anyone who has disregarded banking laws, it is the private complainant for approving withdrawals before the check were cleared. Mrs. Maralit is more knowledgeable of the banking procedures of the bank of which she is the assistant manager. She knows the risk of approving encashment before clearing. She took the risk therefore she should be responsible for the outcome of the risk she has taken. (page 6, Judgment).
The Court is of the opinion that there was negligence on both the complainant and the accused but greater responsibility should be borne by the private complainant. The accused could not have encashed and deposited the checks without her approval. If the complainant was not remiss in her duty in imposing the banking rules strictly, then these things could not have happened. (page 7, Judgment).[8
This portion of the decision of the MTC actually refers to respondents criminal liability and not her civil liability. More specifically, the portion in question refers to the allegations in the three informations that respondent committed falsification of commercial documents through reckless imprudence by 1) taking advantage of [her] position as state auditor of the Commission on Audit assigned at the PNB, Naga Branch, 2) disregard[ing] existing procedure, banking laws, policies, and circulars of the PNB, 3) . . . not tak[ing] the necessary precaution to determine the genuineness of the Treasury Warrants and the alteration of the amount[s] therein deposited and [in] encash[ing] the checks, and 4) . . . [her] negligence, carelessness, and imprudence [which] caused damage and loss to [petitioner].[9 Nevertheless, the MTC held that respondent was civilly liable as the penultimate paragraph of its decision makes clear:
The Court symphatizes with the complainant that there was indeed damage and loss, but said loss is chargeable to the accused who upon her indorsements warrant that the instrument is genuine in all respect what it purports to be and that she will pay the amount thereof in case of dishonor. (Sec. 66 Negotiable Instrument Law) [10
Thus, while the MTC found petitioner partly responsible for the encashment of the altered checks, it found respondent civilly liable because of her indorsements of the treasury warrants, in addition to the fact that respondent executed a notarized acknowledgment of debt promising to pay the total amount of said warrants.
In this case, to affirm the RTCs decision would be to hold that respondent was absolved from both criminal and civil liability by the MTC. Such reading of the MTC decision will not, however, bear analysis. For one, the dispositive portion of the decision of the MTC expressly declares respondent to be civilly liable as indorser of the checks which is [sic] the subject matter of the criminal action. To find therefore that there is no declaration of civil liability of respondent would be to disregard the judgment of the MTC. Worse, it would be to amend a final and executory decision of a court.
It is argued that the decision of the MTC did not order respondent, as accused in the case, to pay a specific amount of money to any particular person such that it could not be an adjudication of respondents civil liability. However, the ambiguity can easily be clarified by a resort to the text of the decision or, what is properly called, the opinion part. Doing so, it is clear that it can only be to petitioner that respondent was made liable as the former was the offended party in the case. As for what amount respondent is liable, it can only be for the total amount of the treasury warrants subject of the case, determined according to their peso equivalent, in the decision of the MTC.
For another, that respondent should pay petitioner the amounts of the altered treasury warrants is the logical consequence of the MTCs holding that private respondent is civilly liable for the treasury warrants subject of the case.[11
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City (Branch 21) is REVERSED.
Bellosillo (Chairman), Puno, Quisumbing, and Buena, JJ., concur.
1 In the RTC, her name was given as Corazon Jesusa L. Imperial.
2 Petition, Appendix C, p. 7; Rollo, p. 46.
3 Id., Appendix D; id., p. 47.
4 Id., Appendix E; id., p. 48.
5 Petition, Appendix H; Rollo, pp. 52-53.
6 Petition., Appendix B; Rollo, p. 39.
7 Id., p. 2; id., p. 10.
8 Petition, Appendix A, pp. 3-9; Rollo, pp. 31-36 (emphasis in the original).
9 Petition, Appendix C, p. 5; Rollo, p. 44.
10 Id., p. 7; id., p. 46.
11 Republic Surety and Insurance Co., Inc. v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 152 SCRA 309 (1987).