Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 132260 August 30, 2005
AMANTE SIAPNO, CRISTINA LOPEZ and MINDA GAPUZ, Petitioners,
MANUEL V. MANALO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
As far back as 1987, in Manchester Development Corporation, et al. vs. Court of Appeals,1 this Court has made it clear that any complaint, petition, answer and other similar pleading that does not specify in its body and prayer the amount of damages claimed should not be accepted or admitted or otherwise expunged from the records. It is unfortunate that to this date, there are still those who failed to hearken to our teaching in Manchester. The present case exemplifies one.
Before the Court is this petition for review on certiorari to nullify and set aside the decision dated 13 January 19982 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA- G.R. SP No. 45434, dismissing, for lack of merit, the earlier petition for certiorari and prohibition thereat filed by the petitioners against the Hon. Eudarlio B. Valencia, Presiding Judge, RTC, Quezon City, Branch 222, and the herein respondent, Manuel V. Manalo.
The underlying facts are not disputed:
As then Administrator of the National Tobacco Administration (NTA), petitioner Amando Siapno, thru a special order dated 12 April 1995, created a negotiating panel with the responsibility of undertaking the disposal of NTA’s 31,159 square-meter real property at Barrio Prinza, Las Piñas City, and accepting offers relative to the purchase thereof by interested party/parties. As constituted, the panel was composed of Ricardo Briones, as chairman, and petitioners Cristina Lopez and Minda Gapuz, as members.
Thru a letter dated 02 June 1995, respondent Manuel Manalo offered to buy the real property in question, which offer was accepted and approved by the NTA Board of Directors in its Resolution No. 336-95 bearing date 15 June 1995, of which respondent Manalo was duly informed by the NTA Corporate Secretary.
In yet another Resolution dated 19 June 1995, the NTA Board of Directors directed the Corporate Secretary to assist the negotiating panel in the preparation of the necessary document for the final disposition and transfer of ownership of the subject real asset in favor of Manalo.
Accordingly, there was prepared a format of a Deed of Sale to be entered into by and between NTA and Manalo, which format was duly approved by the NTA Board of Directors in its Resolution No. 341-95 dated 23 June 1995.
On 27 June 1995, Manalo signed the prepared Deed of Sale, with one NTA Board member acting as a witness. However, the chairman of the negotiating panel Ricardo Briones, deferred affixing his signature thereon unless and until Manalo shall have paid twenty percent (20%) of the agreed purchase price, as downpayment.
The next day - 28 June 1995 - Manalo paid NTA the sum of
P4,424,598.00 by way of downpayment, and, on 24 July 1995, he sent a letter to NTA attaching thereto the original of the domestic letter of credit he established in NTA’s favor for the balance.
However, despite the above, petitioners refused to implement NTA Board Resolutions No. 336-95 and 431-95, hence the sale to Manalo of the subject real property was never consummated.
Such was the state of things when, on 20 August 1995, in the Regional Trial Court at Quezon City, Manalo filed against petitioners a petition for Mandamus with Damages, thereat docketed as Civil Case No. Q-95-24792 which was raffled to Branch 222 of the court. In it, Manalo prayed for the following reliefs, to wit:
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed that:
1. Immediately upon filing of this petition, an order be issued requiring Corporate Secretary Lino Eugenio, Jr. or anyone acting in his behalf, to turn over to the Court all the minutes --- and other documents/vouchers including the partially signed Deed of Sale allied thereto --- of the meetings of the NTA Board of Directors wherein Resolutions Nos. 336-95- 339-95 and 341-95 were adopted, in order to insure preservation of their integrity;
2. After hearing, to compel respondents [now petitioners] to honor, respect [and] implement NTA Board Resolutions Nos. 336-95, 339-95 and 341-95 by signing in behalf of NTA the prepared Deed of Sale covering the Prinza, Las Piñas property.
Petitioner further prays for such other reliefs as may be deemed, just and equitable in the premises.3
On 25 August 1998, or before the petitioners could have submitted their responsive pleading, Manalo filed directly with the Branch Clerk of Branch 222 instead of with the Clerk of Court an Amended Petition for Mandamus with Revocation of Title and Damages,4 thereunder impleading Stanford East Realty Corporation (Stanford), as additional respondent, it being alleged in the same amended petition that herein petitioner Amante Siapno as NTA Administrator, unlawfully executed a deed of sale over the same NTA property in favor of Stanford, on the basis of which the Register of Deeds of Las Piñas issued in Stanford’s favor TCT No. T-4948 for said property. Manalo thus prayed in his amended petition for a judgment declaring the sale to Stanford and the latter’s title as null and void and adjudging the petitioners liable to pay him
P1,000,000.00 as moral damages; P1,000,000.00 as exemplary damages; P2,000,000.00 by way of actual damages; and P500,000.00 as and for attorney’s fees. We quote Manalo’s prayer in his amended petition:
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed of this Hon. Court that
IMMEDIATELY UPON FILING OF THIS PETITION
1. A temporary restraining order be issued to all the respondents to stop and desist from making any transaction involving the subject property;
2. An order be issued requiring Corporate Secretary Lino Eugenio Jr. or anyone acting or substituting in his behalf to turn over [to] the court all the minutes --- and other documents/vouchers including the partially signed Deed of Sale allied thereto -- of meetings of the NTA Board of Directors wherein Resolutions Nos. 336-95, 339-95 and 341-95 were adopted, in order to ensure preservation of their integrity;
AFTER NOTICE AND HEARING
3. A writ of preliminary injunction of the same tenor as in first prayer be issued;
4. A decision rendered:
4.1 Compelling the respondent NTA officials to honor, respect and implement NTA Board Resolutions Nos. 336-95, 339-95 and 341-95 by signing in behalf of NTA the prepared Deed of Sale covering the Prinza, Las Piñas property;
4.2 Declaring as null and void the Deed of Sale executed by the NTA in favor of respondent Stanford and TCT No. 49418 issued in the latter’s name on the basis thereof;
4.3 Ordering the respondents to jointly and severally pay the petitioner: P1 million as moral damages; P1 million as exemplary damages; P2 million as actual damages and P500,000.00 as attorney’s fees.
Petitioner further prays for such other reliefs as may be deemed just equitable in the premises.5
On 29 November 1995, petitioners filed their Answer With Counter-claim and Crossclaim, thereunder raising the defense, inter alia, that the suit filed by Manalo involves a conveyance of real property, hence the docket fee therefor should be based on the value of the real asset involved in the suit but which is not stated in Manalo’s amended petition. And since Manalo has not paid the proper amount of docket fee for his amended petition, the trial court never acquired jurisdiction over the case.
On 24 April 1996, petitioners filed a third-party complaint, which the trial court admitted in open court on 23 May 1996. Manalo, however, moved to strike out petitioners’ third-party complaint, arguing that the docket fees therefor were not paid.
To Manalo’s motion to strike, petitioners interposed an opposition with an accompanying motion for preliminary hearing on their affirmative defense of lack of jurisdiction based on Manalo’s deficient filing fee for his amended petition.
On 08 June 1996, Manalo paid the sum of
P15,150.00 as additional docket fee, followed by his manifestation to that effect.
In an order dated 08 August 1996, the trial court deemed the question of inadequate filing fee as having become moot and academic by reason of Manalo’s subsequent payment of the additional filing fee.
In yet another order dated 09 August 1996, the trial court denied petitioners’ prayer for a preliminary hearing on their affirmative defense of lack of jurisdiction, explaining that Manalo has already paid the additional docketing fee. In the same order, the trial court set the case for pre-trial.
In time, petitioners moved for reconsideration of the trial court’s two (2) aforementioned orders, which motion was likewise denied by the court in its subsequent order of 08 August 1997.
Therefrom, petitioners went to the Court of Appeals on a petition for certiorari and prohibition, thereat docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 45434, imputing grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction on the part of the trial court in issuing its three (3) aforementioned orders of 08 August 1996, 09 August 1996 and 08 August 1997.
As stated at the outset hereof, the appellate court, in its assailed decision of 13 January 1998, denied petitioner’s recourse "for lack of merit".
Hence, petitioners’ present petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, it being their submission that the appellate court erred:
IN HOLDING, PER THE QUESTIONED DECISION DATED 13 JANUARY 1998, THAT RESPONDENT’S PETITION IN THE COURT OF ORIGIN IS A PERSONAL ACTION, NOT A REAL ACTION, THEREBY SANCTIONING THE COGNIZANCE BY THE COURT A QUO OF WHAT IS IN ESSENCE A REAL ACTION WITHOUT THE PAYMENT OF THE PRESCRIBED AND CORRECT DOCKET FEES THEREFOR, WHICH IS A CONDITION SINE QUA NON TO THE COURT’S ACQUISITION AND EXERCISE OF JURISDICTION.
IN SANCTIONING AND APPROVING, IN CONTRAVENTION OF APPLICABLE JURISPRUDENCE AND IN CLEAR DEPARTURE FROM THE ACCEPTED AND USUAL COURSE OF JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS, THE DELIBERATE PLOY OF RESPONDENT IN STATING THE DAMAGES HE CLAIMS ONLY IN THE BODY BUT NOT IN THE PETITORY (PRAYER) PORTION OF THE PETITION TO EVADE PAYMENT OF THE CORRECT DOCKET/FILING FEES THEREFOR.
Simply put, the issue is: whether or not the trial court acted with or without jurisdiction in its Civil Case No. Q-95-24791. Upon the resolution of this issue rests the corollary question of whether or not the appellate court acted with grave abuse of discretion or in excess of jurisdiction in coming out with its challenged decision of 13 January 1998, sustaining the trial court’s three (3) orders in the basic case for Mandamus With Revocation of Title and Damages in Civil Case No. Q-95-24791.
We rule for the petitioners.
Consistent with our ruling in Manchester, supra, that the amount of damages claimed must be alleged not only in the body of the complaint, petition or answer but also in the prayer portion thereof, the lower court should have outrightly dismissed respondent’s original petition for mandamus with revocation of title and damages in its Civil Case No. Q-95-24791, or, if already admitted, should have expunged the same from the records.
We note that while paragraphs 20, 21 and 22 of Manalo’s original petition somehow alleged the amount of moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees, all in the aggregate amount of
P4,500,000.00, which he claimed to have sustained by reason of petitioners’ inaction/refusal to implement the NTA Board Resolutions relative to the sale of the questioned property to him, the prayer, supra, embodied in the same original petition made no mention whatsoever of the same damages. In fact, there was not even a prayer for the payment thereof.
The requirement that the amount of damages claimed has to be specified not only in the body of the pleading but also in its prayer portion came about to put an end to the then prevailing practice by counsels of reciting the damages prayed for only in the body of the complaint to evade payment of the correct filing fees. To quote from Manchester:
The Court cannot close this case without making the observation that it frowns at the practice of counsel who filed the original complaint in this case of omitting any specification of the amount of damages in the prayer although the amount of over
P78 million is alleged in the body of the complaint. This is clearly intended for no other purpose than to evade the payment of the correct filing fees if not to mislead the docket clerk in the assessment of the filing fee. This fraudulent practice was compounded when, even as this Court had taken cognizance of the anomaly and ordered an investigation, petitioner through another counsel filed an amended complaint, deleting all mention of the amount of damages being asked for in the body of the complaint. It was only when in obedience to the order of this Court of October 18, 1985, the trial court directed that the amount of damages be specified in the amended complaint, that petitioners' counsel wrote the damages sought in the much reduced amount of P10,000,000.00 in the body of the complaint but not in the prayer thereof. The design to avoid payment of the required docket fee is obvious.
The Court serves warning that it will take drastic action upon a repetition of this unethical practice.
To put a stop to this irregularity, henceforth all complaints, petitions, answers and other similar pleadings should specify the amount of damages being prayed for not only in the body of the pleading but also in the prayer, and said damages shall be considered in the assessment of the filing fees in any case. Any pleading that fails to comply with this requirement shall not be accepted nor admitted, or shall otherwise be expunged from the record. (Emphasis supplied)
The irrelevant circumstance that respondent Manalo subsequently paid additional filing fees in connection with his amended petition is of no moment. For, with the reality that his original petition suffered from the defect in its prayer vis a vis the amount of damages claimed, and, therefore, should not have been admitted, or, if already accepted, should have been ordered expunged from the records, the amended petition could have served no valid purpose because in law, there is, in the first place, no existing petition to be amended. Accordingly, it was error for the trial court to have entertained and assumed jurisdiction over the same by issuing the orders assailed in CA-G.R. SP No. 45434.
There is more.
In his amended petition, respondent Manalo prayed that NTA’s sale of the property in dispute to Standford East Realty Corporation and the title issued to the latter on the basis thereof, be declared null and void. In a very real sense, albeit the amended petition is styled as one for "Mandamus with Revocation of Title and Damages", it is, at bottom, a suit to recover from Standford the realty in question and to vest in respondent the ownership and possession thereof. In short, the amended petition is in reality an action in res or a real action. Our pronouncement in Fortune Motors (Phils.), Inc. vs. Court of Appeals6 is instructive. There, we said:
A prayer for annulment or rescission of contract does not operate to efface the true objectives and nature of the action which is to recover real property. (Inton, et al., v. Quintan, 81 Phil. 97, 1948)
An action for the annulment or rescission of a sale of real property is a real action. Its prime objective is to recover said real property. (Gavieres v. Sanchez, 94 Phil. 760, 1954)
An action to annul a real estate mortgage foreclosure sale is no different from an action to annul a private sale of real property. (Muñoz v. Llamas, 87 Phil. 737, 1950).
While it is true that petitioner does not directly seek the recovery of title or possession of the property in question, his action for annulment of sale and his claim for damages are closely intertwined with the issue of ownership of the building which, under the law, is considered immovable property, the recovery of which is petitioner's primary objective. The prevalent doctrine is that an action for the annulment or rescission of a sale of real property does not operate to efface the fundamental and prime objective and nature of the case, which is to recover said real property. It is a real action.
Unfortunately, and evidently to evade payment of the correct amount of filing fee, respondent Manalo never alleged in the body of his amended petition, much less in the prayer portion thereof, the assessed value of the subject res, or, if there is none, the estimated value thereof, to serve as basis for the receiving clerk in computing and arriving at the proper amount of filing fee due thereon, as required under Section 7 of this Court’s en banc resolution of 04 September 1990 (Re: Proposed Amendments to Rule 141 on Legal Fees).7
Even the amended petition, therefore, should have been expunged from the records.
In fine, we rule and so hold that the trial court never acquired jurisdiction over its Civil Case No. Q-95-24791. It follows that the appellate court itself acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction, when it sustained the unlawful orders of the trial court, subject of petitioners’ petition for certiorari and prohibition in CA-G.R. SP No. 45434.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED and the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Civil Case No. Q-95-24791 of the trial court is accordingly DISMISSED.
CANCIO C. GARCIA
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
RENATO C. CORONA
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Chairman, Third Division
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Article VIII, Section 13 of the Constitution, and the Division Chairman's Attestation, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.
HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR.
1 149 SCRA 562 .
2 Penned by Associate Justice Roberto A. Barrios, with Associate Justice Artemon D. Luna [ret.] and Godardo Jacinto, concurring; Rollo, pp. 45-50.
3 Rollo, pp. 54-55.
4 Rollo, pp. 57-63.
5 Rollo, p. 62.
6 178 SCRA 564 , citing Gavieres vs. Sanchez, 94 Phil. 760 ; and Punzalan, Jr. vs. Vda. de Lacsamana, 206 Phil. 263 . (Emphasis supplied).
7 Sed. 7. Clerks of Regional Trial Courts. –
xxx xxx xxx
In a real action, the assessed value of the property, or if there is none, the estimated value thereof shall be alleged by the claimant and shall be the basis in computing the fees.
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