Saturday, December 18, 2004

Exceptions to the Rules

Exceptions to the Rules

Updated 01:31am (Mla time) Dec 18, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 18, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAWYER Eliseo B. Alampay, whom I have not yet met, is seeking my advice and assistance in a case handled by his firm entitled Manila Electric Company v. Nelia A. Barles, GR No. 114231, decided by the Supreme Court on June 29, 2004. He briefly summarizes the salient facts as follows:

On Oct. 4, 1990, Muntinlupa City garnished Meralco's bank deposits in several banks for claimed unpaid real property taxes. Meralco filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Makati City for the invalidation of the garnishment. The City moved to dismiss on the ground that the movant should have first paid under protest, which it had not done. The motion was denied.

The denial was appealed to the Court of Appeals which, on Aug. 11, 1993, sustained the City, holding that the denial was "void and without life in law." Meralco appealed to the Supreme Court which, on May 18, 2001, affirmed the CA decision through its Second Division. Meralco moved for reconsideration that was denied "with finality" on Feb. 1, 2002. A second motion for reconsideration was also denied on April 15, 2002, as a prohibited pleading under the Rules of Court. The resolution warned that no further pleading would be entertained in the case.

Accordingly, the Second Division ordered the "entry of final judgment" of the decision of May 18. 2001. This was done on May 27, 2002, with its registration as "final and executory as of 06 March 2002."

Despite such entry, Meralco filed a third motion for reconsideration on June 5, 2002. On June 27, 2002, the City executed the said decision against the Bank of the Philippine Islands, which delivered Meralco's deposit with it amounting to some P800,000. On June 28, 2002, Meralco moved for the recall of the entry of judgment.

In letters addressed to the Chief Justice, copy furnished the chairman of the Second Division, the City protested the said motion, arguing that the resolution of April 15, 2002, had warned that no further pleadings in the case would be entertained. The letters were merely noted and not answered.

On Oct. 21, 2003, the City received copy of a resolution of the Supreme Court en banc accepting the referral to it by the Second Division of Meralco's third motion for reconsideration. Without giving the City the opportunity to file a Comment, the banc resolved on June 29, 2004 to grant the said motion. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

The only member of the Second Division who concurred with the resolution was Justice Quisumbing, his colleagues who had also voted to deny Meralco's first and second motions for reconsideration having already retired.

Alampay questions the grant by the banc of the third motion for reconsideration, considering that even second motions for reconsideration are not allowed. He cites its own doctrinal rulings that all courts, including the Supreme Court itself, lose jurisdiction over cases the decisions in which have already been entered in the Book of Entry of Judgment. No word was said of the fact that the challenged decision had already been partly executed on the BPI deposit. Such partial execution had practically made the decision a "done deal."

This case reminds me of the criminal conviction of Imelda Marcos by the Sandiganbayan that was affirmed on appeal by the Third Division of the Supreme Court chaired by Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa himself. The decision was appealed to the banc which reversed the two previous convictions and acquitted the appellant. The ponente was Justice Fidel Purisima, with the Chief Justice and Justices Romero, Regalado, Davide and Panganiban dissenting.

The strict rule announced in SC Circular No. 2-89 that "the Court en banc is not an Appellate Court to which decisions or resolutions of a Division may be appealed" was not applied in Imelda's case. Her appeal to the Court en banc as a dubious exception to this rule, and her subsequent exoneration, were received with much public disfavor and suspicion.

I can understand Alampay's confusion over the decision of the Supreme Court in this case which seems to conflict with its own established rules respecting the decisions and resolutions of the Divisions as the mandate of the entire Court itself, the finality of decisions entered in the Book of Entry of Judgment, the prohibition against second and more so, third motions for reconsideration, and other requirements and strictures that may or may not be strictly enforced, depending on the mood of the justices.

Many lawyers may not know whether to observe the rules or the exceptions because of the unpredictable impulses of the High Tribunal. Perhaps there should be an Addendum to our procedural laws to be called Exceptions to the Rules of Court.


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