Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 148597             October 24, 2003

GRACE F. MUNSAYAC-DE VILLA, LILY F. MUNSAYAC-SUNGA and ROY MUNSAYAC, petitioners,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS; Judge ANTONIO C. REYES, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City, Branch 61; NORA F. MUNSAYAC-VISPERAS (Represented by Her Heirs); and GELACIO F. MUNSAYAC JR., respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Once a case has been decided with finality, a petition for the inhibition of the judge therefrom becomes moot and academic.

The Case

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari1 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the March 2, 2001 Decision2 and the June 21, 2001 Resolution3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR SP No. 60914. The decretal portion of the Decision reads as follows:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present petition for certiorari and prohibition is hereby GRANTED only insofar as nullifying and setting aside the order of arrest contained in Respondent Judge Antonio C. Reyes’ Orders dated June 22, 2000 and August 28, 2000 in Special Proceedings 704-R, entitled ‘In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of the Late Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and the Late Vicenta Munsayac.’

"No pronouncement as to costs."4

The assailed Resolution denied both petitioners’ Partial Motion for Reconsideration5 and private respondents’ Motion for Reconsideration.6

The Facts

The facts of the case were summarized by the CA in this wise:

"A recapitulation of facts shows that the present controversy before [u]s stems from Special Proceeding Case No. 704-R, entitled ‘In the Matter of the Intestate Estate of the Late Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and the Late Vicenta Munsayac’ and pending before Branch 61 of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City. The said special proceeding case was filed on November 17, 1998 by Grace F. Munsayac-De Villa (‘DE VILLA’), Lily F. Munsayac-Sunga (‘SUNGA’) and Roy Peter F. Munsayac (‘ROY’) – three (3) of the five (5) children of the late Spouses GELACIO and VICENTA MUNSAYAC – for letters of administration nominating DE VILLA as administratrix of the intestate estate of their parents. DE VILLA’s nomination was opposed by the two (2) other children of the late Munsayac Spouses, namely, Gelacio F. Munsayac, Jr. (‘MUNSAYAC, JR.’) and the late Nora F. Munsayac-Visperas (‘VISPERAS’), who nominated MUNSAYAC, JR. as administrator of the late Munsayac Couple’s intestate estate.

"MUNSAYAC, JR. was eventually appointed administrator pursuant to respondent Judge’s Order dated March 22, 2000, replacing Lawyer Ceasar G. Oracion as special administrator of the said intestate estate, pursuant to the Order dated April 27, 1998.

"Despite the approved 60-day suspension of the proceedings to enable the parties to discuss an amicable settlement, the protracted exchange of pleadings between the opposing siblings in Special Proceeding Case No. 704-R was of no help in the immediate settlement of the intestate estate of the late Munsayac Couple.

"Even the efforts of the petitioners to inhibit respondent Judge further complicated the intestate proceedings. Thus, there was the Request for Inhibition dated September 28, 1999, which was filed by DE VILLA and SUNGA. Barely a week after the aforesaid Request for Inhibition was filed and before respondent Judge could act on it, petitioners filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus which was received by this Court on October 4, 1999, docketed as CA-G.R. SP NO. 55193 which has for its petitioners and respondents the same respective parties involved in the present petition before [u]s, and questions, among others, respondent Judge’s Order in open court dated September 29, 1999 directing/ordering DE VILLA to produce by 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the same date certain bank time deposit certificates/documents; and the order of arrest of DE VILLA by about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the same date, for failure to produce the said bank certificates/documents. Pending the resolution of CA-G.R. SP NO. 55193, petitioners filed an administrative case dated July 11, 2000 before the Supreme Court, docketed as OCA IPI NO. 00-989-RTJ, which not only prayed for respondent Judge’s suspension but also his permanent removal from office on grounds of grave misconduct and serious inefficiency.

"Acting on the Omnibus Motion dated April 24, 2000 which was filed by the administrator of the intestate estate, respondent Judge issued the Order dated May 4, 2000, which underscored the order to surrender, under pain of contempt, (a) the amount of the bank investment discovered in the names of the late VICENTA, DE VILLA and SUNGA made with the United Coconut Planter’s Bank, Baguio City (‘UCPB’) under Investment Confirmation No. 0666 worth P13,506,343.33, and which amount was not disclosed by the petitioners in the estate return tax, (b) as well as the surrender of all the pieces of jewelry given by the late VICENTA to DE VILLA and SUNGA, subject of the ‘freeze order’ with the China Banking Corporation.

"The Court a quo substantially reiterated the import of the Order dated May 4, 2000, by issuing the Order dated May 24, 2000 and, on the account of petitioners’ failure to faithfully comply therewith, issued the Order dated June 22, 2000, which contained the following decretal portion –

‘WHEREFORE, for their failure to comply with the Order of this Court dated May 24, 2000, the petitioners Grace de Villa, Lily Sunga and Peter Roy Munsayac are hereby ordered ARRESTED in accordance with Section 8, Rule 71, of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure, until their compliance to immediately surrender in custodia legis to this Court for the Special Administrator the amount of P13,506,343.33 plus the legal interest of 12% per annum compounded annually, from May 1995 until fully complied with or a total amount of P23,802,788.00 more or less, as of May, 2000.

‘The petitioners Grace de Villa, Lily Sunga and Peter Roy Munsayac are likewise ORDERED to surrender in custodia legis to this Court for the Special Administrator the amount of P15,298,835.95 and P3,010,822.02 plus the legal interest of 12% per annum compounded annually, from May 1995 until fully complied with or a total amount of P32,267,868.00, more or less, as of May 2000, within fifteen (15) days from receipt of this Order.

‘SO ORDERED.’

and the Order dated August 28, 2000, the pertinent portion of which reads -

‘The order for the petitioners to surrender the amounts stated in this Court’s order dated June 22, 2000 shall stand and the order for the petitioners’ arrest shall not be lifted until their full and faithful compliance with the order to place the said money in the legal custody of either the special administrator or this Court. The motion for reconsideration on the matter of petitioners’ standing order of arrest is therefore DENIED.

‘SO ORDERED.’

were issued by respondent Judge and are now both subject of this present petition x x x."71a\^/phi1.net

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

In nullifying the arrest order issued by Judge Reyes, the CA ruled that he had summarily ordered the arrest of petitioners without any written charge filed against them or any hearing conducted thereon. According to the appellate court, "there is nothing in Rule 71 which explicitly allows that the requirements of filing a written charge and hearing in indirect contempt cases may be dispensed with."8 It thus set aside the Order of Arrest issued by respondent judge.

Ruling on the request for inhibition filed by petitioners, the CA, however, held that there was no convincing proof that the demeanor of the trial judge had put him under suspicion, especially in the light of their clear display of contumacious behavior toward the court.9 It further held that their request for inhibition was unacceptable, because they had come to the court with "unclean hands."10

Hence, this Petition.11

The Issue

In their Memorandum,12 petitioners submit this sole issue for our consideration:

"With due respect, the Respondent Court of Appeals erred as a matter of law in not ordering the inhibition of the respondent presiding judge who, as shown in all his actuations and orders, [has] demonstrated vindictiveness, arbitrariness, prejudice and bias against petitioners and partiality in favor of private respondents thereby denying petitioners’ fundamental right to be entitled to an impartial tribunal."13

The Court’s Ruling

The Petition for inhibition has no merit, but the trial judge must lift the freeze order and cause the return of property or money still in custodia legis.

Sole Issue:

Inhibition

Before delving into the issue of inhibition, we note that the CA Decision nullified and set aside the Order of Arrest issued by Judge Reyes against petitioners. Consequently, the propriety of the Order was no longer raised in this Petition. Neither was it raised by respondents.

In a petition under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court -- as distinguished from an ordinary appeal of a criminal case in which the whole case is opened for review -- the appeal is limited to the errors assigned by petitioner.14 Since respondents did not contest the Decision of the CA, no affirmative relief can be sought by or given to them.15 Thus, not all the issues raised before the appellate court need to be considered by this Court. The sole issue in the present Petition is the question of inhibition of respondent judge.

We emphasize at the outset that the main case from which this Petition arose has already been decided by the CA. The Decision is now final and executory.16 Already terminated in that main case was Special Proceedings No. 704-R, which had given rise to a number of incidents and petitions including the herein matter. In CA-GR SP No. 64025, the CA found that Judge Reyes had gravely abused his discretion when he disallowed the Extrajudicial Partition17 executed by the heirs of the Munsayac spouses. Thus, the appellate court disposed as follows:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant special civil action is hereby GRANTED.1a\^/phi1.net Accordingly, the assailed Orders dated March 1, 2001 and March 21, 2001 are hereby NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE, and a new one ENTERED approving the Extrajudicial Partition between the Heirs of the Spouses Gelacio J. Munsayac, Sr. and Vicenta F. Munsayac, and terminating Special Proceedings No. 704-R pending before respondent Court[.] The parties are hereby ENJOINED to abide by the same."18

Petitioners, however, argue that since there are still matters pending before the trial judge, such as the withdrawal/release of money deposited in custodia legis and the lifting of a freeze order on certain jewelry, his inhibition is still needed.19

We disagree. After the CA terminated Special Proceedings No. 704-R, we see no more reason why the inhibition of Judge Reyes should still be an issue. The Petition therefor has already become moot and academic in view of the termination of the main case. How can he be inhibited from a case that has already been decided with finality?

It should be clear that the CA Decision20 terminating Special Proceedings No. 704-R found that the Deed of Extrajudicial Partition executed by all the parties was the "final, complete and absolute settlement of their respective shares and claims as heirs of deceased spouses Gelacio Munsayac, Sr. and Vicenta Munsayac."21 As such, any and all incidents relating to the special proceedings should also be deemed to have been terminated.

When Judge Reyes issued his Orders commanding the bank manager of the China Bank branch in Baguio City to freeze the safety deposit box of petitioners22 and to deposit certain amounts in custodia legis,23 he did so as the presiding judge in the probate court that was hearing Special Proceedings No. 704-R. Now that the case has finally been terminated, it follows that neither he nor his court has any more right to hold the properties that were the subject of his Orders in the special proceedings.

Needless to say, the lifting of any freeze order and the return of any property previously deposited with the court should be effected. The judge had no more discretion to decide whether the amounts and the property deposited should be released. Likewise, any standing order on any property in relation to the special proceedings should be lifted. This ruling reiterates the long-standing principle that a tribunal acting as a probate court exercises limited jurisdiction.24 However, the determination of whether a property should be included in the inventory is within its probate jurisdiction. Such determination is only provisional -- not conclusive -- in character and subject to the final decision in a separate action that may be instituted by the parties.25

Neither are we unmindful of the rule that questions on an advance made or allegedly made by the deceased to any heir may be heard and determined by the court that has jurisdiction over the estate proceedings; and that the final order of the court thereon shall be binding on the person raising the questions and on the heirs.26

In a train of decisions, this Court has consistently enunciated this settled, corollary principle: generally, a probate court may not decide a question of title or ownership, but it may do so if the interested parties are all heirs; or the question is one of collation or advancement; or the parties consent to its assumption of jurisdiction and the rights of third parties are not impaired.27 These principles, however, have no more application in this case, since the main proceedings for the settlement of the intestate estate of the deceased couple have already been decided and terminated. Indeed, every litigation must come to an end.28

To be sure, this Court is not tasked to look into the ownership of the properties deposited with or ordered frozen by the lower court during the progress of the special proceedings. Neither can Judge Reyes do so now. Whether those properties should have been adjudicated by the legal heirs of the Munsayac spouses is beside the point at this time. The former have already entered into an Extrajudicial Partition representing the final, complete and absolute settlement of their shares as heirs of the latter. What is left to be done is simply the lifting of any freeze order and the release of any property originally deposited by petitioners in custodia legis.

In view of the above ruling, we deem it necessary to direct Judge Reyes to immediately lift any freeze order still pending and to order the release of any property deposited in custodia legis. It is already an accepted rule of procedure for this Court to strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding, leaving no root or branch to bear the seeds of future litigation.29 To achieve that end and to expedite the case in the interest of substantial justice, a directive to the trial judge to lift the freeze order and release the property deposited with the court becomes indispensable.30

WHEREFORE, the prayer for the inhibition of Judge Antonio C. Reyes is hereby DENIED for being moot and academic. However, he is DIRECTED to immediately lift any order he made on properties relative to Special Proceedings No. 704-R. He is further ORDERED to cause the return of any amount or property originally deposited by petitioners in custodia legis. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 10-33.

2 Annex "A" of the Petition; rollo, pp. 34-40. Penned by Justice Martin S. Villarama Jr. and concurred in by Justices Conrado M. Vasquez Jr. (Division chairman) and Perlita J. Tria Tirona (member).

3 Annex "B" of the Petition; rollo, pp. 42-44.

4 CA Decision, p. 6; rollo, p. 39.

5 CA rollo, pp. 298-309.

6 Id., pp. 402-411.

7 CA Decision, pp. 2-4; rollo, pp. 35-37. Citations omitted.

8 CA Decision, p. 6; rollo, p. 39.

9 CA Resolution dated June 21, 2001, p. 2; rollo, p. 43.

10 Id., pp. 3 & 44.

11 The case was deemed submitted for decision on July 10, 2002, upon this Court’s receipt of petitioners’ "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration," which was signed by Atty. Ismael M. Estella. Earlier or on March 20, 2002, this Court received petitioners’ Memorandum signed by the same counsel. Private respondents’ Memorandum, signed by Attys. Reynaldo U. Agranzamendez and Miguel B. Liceralde was filed with this Court on April 15, 2002.

12 Rollo, pp. 107-127.

13 Petitioners’ Memorandum, p. 12; rollo, p. 118. Original in upper case.

14 Manalili v. CA, 345 Phil. 632, October 9, 1997.

15 Rayandayan v. CA, 373 Phil. 27, September 14, 1999; China Banking Corporation v. NLRC, 329 Phil. 608, August 22, 1996.

16 See Entry of Judgment dated June 17, 2002 in CA-GR SP No. 64025; Annex "A" of petitioners’ "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration"; rollo, p. 160.

17 Records, Vol. III, pp. 834-837.

18 CA Decision dated November 29, 2001, p. 12; rollo, p. 99.

19 Petitioners’ "Supplemental to Manifestation/Motion for Reconsideration," p. 2; id., p. 158.

20 Dated November 29, 2001; records, Vol. III, pp. 883-895; penned by Justice Ramon A. Barcelona (Division chairman) and concurred in by Justices Bernardo P. Abesamis and Perlita J. Tria Tirona (members).

21 CA Decision dated November 29, 2001, pp. 4-5; id., pp. 886-887.

22 Order dated March 24, 1999, records, Vol. I, p. 142.

23 Order dated May 4, 2000, records, Vol. II, pp. 1037-1045; Order dated May 24, 2000, id., pp. 1103-1104.

24 Heirs of Oscar R. Reyes v. Reyes, 345 SCRA 541, November 22, 2000; Lim v. CA, 380 Phil. 60, January 24, 2000.

25 Heirs of Oscar R. Reyes v. Reyes, supra; Sanchez v. CA, 345 Phil. 155, September 29, 1997; Valera v. Inserto, 149 SCRA 533, May 7, 1987.

26 Natcher v. CA, 418 Phil. 669, October 2, 2001.

27 Ibid.; Coca v. Borromeo, 81 SCRA 278, January 31, 1978.

28 Province of Camarines Norte v. Province of Quezon, 419 Phil. 372, October 11, 2001; Flores v. CA, 328 Phil. 992, July 29, 1996.

29 San Luis v. CA, 417 Phil. 598, September 13, 2001; Ching v. CA, 387 Phil. 28, April 27, 2000; De los Reyes v. CA, 372 Phil. 522, September 3, 1999.

30 De los Reyes v. CA, supra; Golangco v. CA, 347 Phil. 771, December 22, 1997; Heirs of Gabriel-Almoradi v. CA, 229 SCRA 15, January 4, 1994.


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