Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 143312. August 12, 2005
RICARDO S. SILVERIO, JR., ESSES DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, and TRI-STAR FARMS, INC., Petitioners,
FILIPINO BUSINESS CONSULTANTS, INC., Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a petition for review of the Order of the Regional Trial Court, Fourth Judicial Region, Branch XI, Balayan, Batangas ("RTC Balayan") dated 26 May 2000.1 The order suspended the enforcement of the writ of possession that the RTC Balayan had previously issued in favor of petitioners Ricardo S. Silverio, Jr. ("Silverio, Jr."), Esses Development Corporation ("Esses") and Tri-Star Farms, Inc. ("Tri-Star"). Filipino Business Consultants, Inc. ("FBCI"), now Filipino Vastland Company, Inc. sought to suspend the writ of possession on the ground of a supervening event. FBCI claimed that it had just acquired all the stocks of Esses and Tri-Star. As the new owner of Esses and Tri-Star, FBCI asserted its right of possession to the disputed property. Petitioners Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star question the RTC Balayan’s suspension of the writ of possession and its jurisdiction to hold hearings on the supervening event.
The Antecedent Facts
The parties are wrangling over possession of a 62 hectare-land in Calatagan, Batangas ("Calatagan Property"). Silverio, Jr. is the President of Esses and Tri-Star. Esses and Tri-Star were in possession of the Calatagan Property, covered by TCT No. T-55200 and registered in the names of Esses and Tri-Star.
On 22 September 1995, Esses and Tri-Star executed a Deed of Sale with Assumption of Mortgage in favor of FBCI. Esses and Tri-Star failed to redeem the Calatagan Property.
On 27 May 1997, FBCI filed a Petition for Consolidation of Title of the Calatagan Property with the RTC Balayan.2
FBCI obtained a judgment by default. Subsequently, TCT No. T-55200 in the names of Esses and Tri-Star was cancelled and TCT No. T-77656 was issued in FBCI’s name. On 20 April 1998, the RTC Balayan issued a writ of possession in FBCI’s favor. FBCI then entered the Calatagan Property.
When Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star learned of the judgment by default and writ of possession, they filed a petition for relief from judgment and the recall of the writ of possession. Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star alleged that the judgment by default is void because the RTC Balayan did not acquire jurisdiction over them. FBCI allegedly forged the service of summons on them.
On 28 December 1998, the RTC Balayan nullified and set aside the judgment by default and the writ of possession. The RTC Balayan found that the summons and the complaint were not served on Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star. The RTC Balayan directed the service of summons anew on Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star.
The RTC Balayan denied FBCI’s motion for reconsideration of the order. FBCI then filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals questioning the RTC Balayan’s 28 December 1998 Order.3 On 28 April 2000, the Court of Appeals denied FBCI’s petition. The Court of Appeals also denied FBCI’s motion for reconsideration. On 13 August 2001, the Supreme Court denied FBCI’s petition.
On 14 April 1999, the RTC Balayan modified its 28 December 1998 Order by upholding FBCI’s possession of the Calatagan Property. The RTC Balayan ruled that FBCI could not be deprived of possession of the Calatagan Property because FBCI made substantial improvements on it. Possession could revert to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star only if they reimburse FBCI. The RTC Balayan gave Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star 15 days to file their responsive pleadings.
Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star moved for the partial reconsideration of the 14 April 1999 Order. Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star argued that since the judgment by default was nullified, they should be restored to their possession of the Calatagan Property. FBCI did not file any opposition to the motion.
On 9 November 1999, the RTC Balayan reversed its 14 April 1999 Order by holding that Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star had no duty to reimburse FBCI. The RTC Balayan pointed out that FBCI offered no evidence to substantiate its claim for expenses. The 9 November 1999 Order also restored possession of the Calatagan Property to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star pursuant to Rule 39, Section 5 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. This provision provides for restitution in case of reversal of an executed judgment. On 7 January 2000, the RTC Balayan denied FBCI’s motion for reconsideration.
On 8 May 2000, the RTC Balayan issued the writ of possession to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star.
On 12 May 2000, FBCI filed with the RTC Balayan a Manifestation and Motion to Recall Writ of Possession on the ground that the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 56924 was not yet final and FBCI’s motion for reconsideration was still pending. The RTC Balayan set the hearing on 26 May 2000.
On 23 May 2000, FBCI filed with the RTC Balayan an Urgent Ex-Parte Motion to Suspend Enforcement of Writ of Possession. FBCI pointed out that it is now the new owner of Esses and Tri-Star having purchased the "substantial and controlling shares of stocks"4 of the two corporations.
On the 26 May 2000 hearing, FBCI reiterated its claim of a supervening event, its ownership of Esses and Tri-Star. FBCI informed the RTC Balayan that a new board of directors for Esses and Tri-Star had been convened following the resignation of the members of the board of directors. The previous actions of the former board of directors have been abandoned and the services of Atty. Vicente B. Chuidian, the counsel of petitioners Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star, have been terminated.
On the same day, the RTC Balayan issued the order suspending the writ of possession it had earlier issued to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star. The RTC Balayan reasoned that it would violate the law on forum shopping if it executed the writ while FBCI’s motion for reconsideration of the Court of Appeals’ decision and urgent motion to suspend the issuance of the writ of possession remained pending with the Court of Appeals. The RTC Balayan noted that because of FBCI’s strong resistance, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star have still to take possession of the Calatagan Property. More than ten days had already passed from the time that the RTC Balayan had issued the writ of possession. FBCI had barricaded the Calatagan Property, threatening bloodshed if possession will be taken away from it. The RTC Balayan believed that if it would not restrain Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star from taking possession of the Calatagan Property, a violent confrontation between the parties might erupt as reported in the Tempo newspaper in its 26 May 2000 issue. Without issuing a restraining order, the RTC Balayan suspended the writ by requesting the counsel of Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star to allow the court to study the voluminous records of the case, which are to be presented at the hearing on 16 June 2000. The hearing would determine the existence of a supervening event.
On 15 June 2000, the RTC Balayan issued an Order cancelling the 16 June 2000 hearing so that the Court of Appeals could resolve the issue regarding the existence of a supervening event. However, the RTC Balayan declared that the suspension of the writ of possession would be lifted on 17 June 2000.
On 8 August 2000, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star filed a complaint for annulment of contracts with damages with the Regional Trial Court of Las Piñas City, Branch 275 ("RTC Las Piñas").5
Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star argue that:
An ex parte motion cannot legally constitute an initiatory basis for the RTC Balayan to conduct additional hearings in order to validate certain new allegations. Neither can said ex parte motion be the basis for the suspension of a writ of possession being implemented.
When the RTC Balayan suspended the writ of possession, it was barred from hearing intra-corporate disputes. And though Congress has now amended our law on the matter, the RTC still cannot proceed because of due process and res judicata reasons.
A final and executory judgment cannot be enjoined except by an appropriate petition for relief, a direct attack in another action or a collateral act in another action.
Respondent FBCI is asking for a suspension of the writ of possession while at the same time threatening violence if the writ of possession were to be implemented. The RTC Balayan had no lawful basis to suspend the writ under these admitted circumstances.
Respondent has not directly answered petitioners’ legal theory. The petition is founded on admitted facts upon which relief is sought under Rule 45. Respondent has altered these facts – presenting its so called "counterstatements of facts and issues" – which involve questions of fact that are still litis pendentia at the RTC Balayan. And which even involve an attempt to vary res judicata.
Contrary to respondent’s claims, that the RTC order of 15 June 2000 has rendered this case "moot and academic" – quite on the contrary – said order calls upon the Supreme Court to decide whether or not, the RTC Balayan may continue to conduct its hearings on suspending the writ of possession.
Respondent’s theory that an order suspending a writ of possession is interlocutory in nature, and therefore inappealable, is not supported by jurisprudence.
Respondent’s views on when suspending a writ of execution is appropriate – would "make the exception as rule." And respondent’s reliance on Flores vs. CA, et al. is totally misplaced. In the Flores case, the party being dispossessed was a judgment creditor, who was admitted by the adverse party to be the owner.
The question of jus possessionis on the Calatagan Property is already res judicata while the question of jus possidendi is still under litis pendentia. For that reason, respondent has lost all his legal options in retaining the property procured under a "faked service" of summons.
Respondents arguments in his 11-06-01 Memo – on (a) "forum shopping", (b) "petitioners’ lack of capacity to sue", (c) "service of summons already served" (d) "no intra-corporate dispute" and (e) "the relief herein preempted by events" – are ratiocinations of miniscule weight, meriting only the slightest comment.6
FBCI raises the following issues:
1. Whether the present case has been rendered moot and academic by the Order of the RTC Balayan dated 15 June 2000 and the filing of an action with the Regional Trial Court of Las Piñas City;
2. Whether the present appeal should be dismissed on the ground of forum shopping;
3. Whether the RTC Balayan had the authority to suspend enforcement of the writ of possession and to conduct hearings on a new set of facts;
4. Whether the present case involves an intra-corporate controversy;
5. Whether appeal by certiorari under Rule 45 is the proper remedy under the given facts of the case.7
The Ruling of the Court
The petition has merit.
Before resolving the threshold issue, which is the existence of a supervening event, we first address the following procedural issues: (1) whether appeal is the proper remedy against an order suspending the execution of a writ of possession; (2) whether the issue of possession was mooted by the 15 June 2000 Order of the RTC Balayan; and (3) whether the filing of a civil case with the RTC Las Piñas constitutes forum shopping.
First, interlocutory orders are those that determine incidental matters that do not touch on the merits of the case or put an end to the proceedings.8 The proper remedy to question an improvident interlocutory order is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, not Rule 45.9 A petition for review under Rule 45 is the proper mode of redress to question final judgments.10
An order staying the execution of the writ of possession is an interlocutory order.11 Clearly, this order cannot be appealed. A petition for certiorari was therefore the correct remedy. Moreover, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star pointed out that the RTC Balayan acted on an ex-parte motion to suspend the writ of possession, which is a litigious matter, without complying with the rules on notice and hearing. Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star also assail the RTC Balayan’s impending move to accept FBCI’s evidence on its subsequent ownership of Esses and Tri-Star. In effect, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star accuse the RTC Balayan of acting without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion, which is within the ambit of certiorari.
However, in the exercise of our judicial discretion, we will treat the appeal as a petition under Rule 65.12 Technical rules must be suspended whenever the purposes of justice warrant it, such as in this case where substantial and important issues await resolution.
Second, the RTC Balayan’s 15 June 2000 Order lifting the suspension of the writ of possession was issued to correct its action on FBCI’s ex-parte motion, which did not have the required notice and hearing. This issue has thus become a fait accompli. However, while the 15 June 2000 Order is supposed to have mooted the suspension of the execution of the writ of possession by lifting the suspension on 17 June 2000, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star claim that the writ has not been executed in their favor. Thus, the issues in this petition are far from being moot. Also, the existence of a supervening event is another issue that must be resolved since the RTC Balayan had instead submitted to the "higher courts" the resolution of this issue.
Third, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star are not guilty of forum shopping for filing another action against FBCI with the RTC Las Piñas during the pendency of this case with the RTC Balayan. Forum shopping consists of filing multiple suits involving the same parties for the same cause of action, either simultaneously or successively, to obtain a favorable judgment.13
The parties and cause of action in the present case before the RTC Balayan and in the case before the RTC Las Piñas are different. The present case was filed by FBCI against Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star for the consolidation of title over the Calatagan Property. On the other hand, the case before the RTC Las Piñas was filed by Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star against FBCI and other defendants for the annulment of contract with damages, tort and culpa aquiliana (civil fraud).
In its complaint before the RTC Las Piñas, Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star informed the court that there is a pending case with the RTC Balayan over the Calatagan Property.14 Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star made it clear in the complaint that the case before the RTC Las Piñas will focus on the Makati Tuscany property and any reference to the Calatagan Property is "meant to serve only as proof or evidence of the plan, system, scheme, habit, etc., lurking behind defendants’ interlocking acts constituting interlocking tort and interlocking fraud."15 Clearly, FBCI’s claim of forum shopping against Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star has no basis.
No Supervening Event in this Case
FBCI took possession of the Calatagan Property after the RTC Balayan rendered a judgment by default in FBCI’s favor. The judgment by default was nullified after the RTC Balayan found out that the service of summons on Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star was procured fraudulently. The RTC Balayan thus recalled the writ of possession it had issued to FBCI. Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star were served anew with summons. The RTC Balayan restored possession of the Calatagan Property to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star as restitution resulting from the annulment of the judgment by default. The order restoring possession of the Calatagan Property to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star has attained finality. This case then proceeded to pre-trial.
FBCI has resisted the enforcement of the writ of possession by barricading the Calatagan Property and threatening violence if its possession of the property is taken away from it. To avoid bloodshed, as FBCI also claimed that Silverio, Jr. had armed civilians threatening to shoot FBCI’s representatives,16 the RTC Balayan momentarily suspended the execution of the writ. The RTC Balayan also had to rule on FBCI’s claim of a supervening event that would allegedly make the execution of the writ absurd,17 as FBCI alleges it now owns the controlling interest in Esses and Tri-Star. The RTC Balayan lifted the suspension of the writ but it cancelled the hearings on the supervening event to give way to the Court of Appeals’ action on this issue. The RTC Balayan decided to await the appellate court’s resolution because it did not want to violate the rule against forum shopping.
Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star argue that the RTC Balayan has no power to conduct hearings on the supervening event because res judicata has set in on the issue. They also contend that the supervening event is an intra-corporate controversy that is within the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the trial court. Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star point out that despite the lifting of the suspension RTC Balayan has still to execute the writ of possession in their favor. On the other hand, FBCI maintains that its acquisition of Esses and Tri-Star is a supervening event, which the RTC Balayan could hear and is sufficient ground to stay the execution of the writ of possession.
We rule in favor of Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star.
The court may stay immediate execution of a judgment when supervening events, occurring subsequent to the judgment, bring about a material change in the situation of the parties.18 To justify the stay of immediate execution, the supervening events must have a direct effect on the matter already litigated and settled.19 Or, the supervening events must create a substantial change in the rights or relations of the parties which would render execution of a final judgment unjust, impossible or inequitable making it imperative to stay immediate execution in the interest of justice.20
In this case, there is no judgment on the merits, only a judgment on a technicality. Even then, the judgment of default rendered in FBCI’s favor was voided because the RTC Balayan did not acquire jurisdiction over Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star due to a fraudulent service of summons. The case for consolidation of title, from which this petition stemmed, is in fact still being litigated before the RTC Balayan.
The issuance of the writ of possession in favor of Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star is also not a judgment on the merits.21 A writ of possession is an order whereby the sheriff is commanded to place a person in possession of real or personal property. 22 The issuance of the writ of possession to Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star is but an order of restitution – a consequence of the nullification of the judgment by default. The order of restitution placed the parties in the situation prior to the RTC Balayan’s rendition of the void judgment by default. Title to the Calatagan Property is still in the names of Esses and Tri-Star. Possession of the Calatagan Property must revert to Esses and Tri-Star as legal owners of the property.
However, with the reinstitution of the case for consolidation of title with the RTC Balayan, possession of the Calatagan Property is now subject to the outcome of the case. Nonetheless, while this case is still under litigation – it is only in the pre-trial stage – Esses and Tri-Star in whose names the Calatagan Property is titled and in whose favor the order of restitution was issued, are the ones entitled to possession of the property.
We do not agree with Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star’s assertion that the RTC Balayan has no power to conduct a hearing on the existence of a supervening event because of res judicata. Res judicata does not set in where the court is without jurisdiction over the subject or person, and therefore, the judgment is a nullity23 such as the judgment by default in this case. The order that voided the judgment by default and the order of restitution merely recognized the nullity of the judgment by default. The orders did not adjudicate on the merits of the case. Since res judicata had not set in, the case was tried anew upon the proper service of summons on Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star.
Moreover, it is the court issuing the writ of possession that has control and supervision over its processes.24 The RTC Balayan can therefore hear the evidence on the existence of a supervening event, provided the subject matter is within the jurisdiction of the court, as this could affect the execution of the writ of possession.
We are, therefore, dismayed with the RTC Balayan’s referral of the existence of the supervening event to the "higher courts." Courts must not shirk from their duty to rule on an issue. The duty of the appellate or higher courts is to review the findings and rulings of the lower courts, not to issue advisories. Courts must execute its processes and should not succumb to threats by any of the parties to resort to violence in case of such enforcement. Had the RTC Balayan immediately passed upon FBCI’s allegation of a supervening event, it would have been apparent that this claim is without merit. The RTC Balayan should have then enforced posthaste the writ of possession in Silverio, Jr., Esses and Tri-Star’s favor.
FBCI’s acquisition of the "substantial and controlling shares of stocks"25 of Esses and Tri-Star does not create a substantial change in the rights or relations of the parties that would entitle FBCI to possession of the Calatagan Property, a corporate property of Esses and Tri-Star. Esses and Tri-Star, just like FBCI, are corporations. A corporation has a personality distinct from that of its stockholders. As early as the case of Stockholders of F. Guanzon and Sons, Inc. v. Register of Deeds of Manila,26 the Court explained the principle of separate juridical personality in this wise:
A corporation is a juridical person distinct from the members composing it. Properties registered in the name of the corporation are owned by it as an entity separate and distinct from its members. While shares of stock constitute personal property, they do not represent property of the corporation. The corporation has property of its own which consists chiefly of real estate (Nelson v. Owen, 113 Ala., 372, 21 So. 75; Morrow v. Gould, 145 Iowa 1, 123 N.W. 743). A share of stock only typifies an aliquot part of the corporation's property, or the right to share in its proceeds to that extent when distributed according to law and equity (Hall & Faley v. Alabama Terminal, 173 Ala 398, 56 So., 235), but its holder is not the owner of any part of the capital of the corporation (Bradley v. Bauder, 36 Ohio St., 28). Nor is he entitled to the possession of any definite portion of its property or assets (Gottfried v. Miller, 104 U.S., 521; Jones v. Davis, 35 Ohio St., 474). The stockholder is not a co-owner or tenant in common of the corporate property (Harton v. Hohnston, 166 Ala., 317, 51 So., 992).
Thus, FBCI’s alleged controlling shareholdings in Esses and Tri-Star merely represent a proportionate or aliquot interest in the properties of the two corporations. Such controlling shareholdings do not vest FBCI with any legal right or title to any of Esses and Tri-Star’s corporate properties. As a stockholder, FBCI has an interest in Esses and Tri-Star’s corporate properties that is only equitable or beneficial in nature. Even assuming that FBCI is the controlling shareholder of Esses and Tri-Star, it does not legally make it the owner of the Calatagan Property, which is legally owned by Esses and Tri-Star as distinct juridical persons. As such, FBCI is not entitled to the possession of any definite portion of the Calatagan Property or any of Esses and Tri-Star’s properties or assets. FBCI is not a co-owner or tenant in common of the Calatagan Property or any of Esses and Tri-Star’s corporate properties.
We see no reason why the execution of the writ of possession has been long delayed. Possession of the Calatagan Property must be restored to Esses and Tri-Star through their representative, Silverio, Jr. There is no proof on record that Silverio, Jr. has ceased to be the representative of Esses and Tri-Star in this case.
WHEREFORE, we GRANT the petition. The Regional Trial Court, Branch XI, Balayan, Batangas is ordered to immediately execute the writ of possession in Civil Case No. 3356 in favor of Esses Development Corporation and Tri-Star Farms, Inc. through their representative, Ricardo S. Silverio, Jr. No costs.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Judge Roberto L. Makalintal.
2 Docketed as Civil Case No. 3356.
3 Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 56924.
4 Rollo, pp. 70-71.
5 Docketed as Civil Case No. LP-00-0163.
6 Rollo, pp. 356-357.
7 Ibid., p. 231.
8 Diesel Construction Company, Inc. v. Jollibee Foods Corporation, 380 Phil. 813 (2000).
12 Ibid.; Go v. Court of Appeals, 358 Phil. 214 (1998).
13 The Executive Secretary v. Gordon, 359 Phil. 266 (1998).
14 Rollo, p. 253.
16 Ibid., p. 74.
18 Serrano v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 133883, 10 December 2003, 417 SCRA 415.
21 See OSCAR M. HERERRA, REMEDIAL LAW, Vol. II, 2000 ed., p. 451.
23 Arevalo v. Hon. Benedicto, 157 Phil. 175 (1974).
24 Heirs of Francisco Guballa, Sr. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 78223, 19 December 1988, 168 SCRA 518 citing Vda. de Dimayuga vs. Raymundo and Nable, 76 Phil. 143 (1946).
25 Rollo, pp. 70-71.
26 G.R. No. L-18216, 30 October 1962, 6 SCRA 373; See also Martinez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 131673, 10 September 2004, 438 SCRA 130; Good Earth Emporium, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 82797, 27 February 1991, 194 SCRA 544; Magsaysay-Labrador v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 58168, 19 December 1989, 180 SCRA 266.
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