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325 Phil. 335

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 73592, March 15, 1996 ]

JOSE CUENCO BORROMEO, PETRA BORROMEO AND VITALIANA BORROMEO, PETITIONERS, VS. HON. INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT, HON. FRANCISCO P. BURGOS, RICARDO V. REYES, DOMINGO ANTIGUA AND NUMERIANO G. ESTENZO, RESPONDENTS.

DECISION

PANGANIBAN, J.:

What constitutes "forum-shopping" under the Interim Rules of Court?  This is the question presented in this petition for review on certiorari of the Decision[1] in AC-G.R. SP No. 03409 of the then Intermediate Appellate Court[2] dismissing petitioners’ appeal from an order of the then Court of First Instance of Cebu regarding an incident in Special Proceedings No. 916-R for the settlement of the estate of the deceased Vito Borromeo.

By resolution dated November 13, 1995, the First Division of this Court transferred this case, along with several others, to the Third. After due deliberation and consultation on the petition and other submissions of the parties, the Court assigned the writing of this Decision to the undersigned ponente.

The Facts

On August 15, 1969, the Court of First Instance of Cebu, then presided by Judge Alfredo G. Laya, issued an order approving the project of partition and the distribution of the estate of Vito Borromeo to his heirs.

While Judge Alfredo G. Laya was implementing the order of August 15, 1969, herein private respondent Numeriano G. Estenzo, in his capacity as counsel for the oppositors, filed before this Court a petition (L-32876) praying, among other things, that the probate court be restrained from implementing the order of August 15, 1969 and from distributing the estate among the heirs.

On March 15, 1971, this Court resolved the petition in a Resolution which reads in pertinent part:
"1. The Court thus refused to restrain respondent Judge from making a distribution of the estate, for the following reasons: (a) The heirs themselves do not object to a distribution; indeed, they have already submitted a project of partition; (b) Sp. Proc. No. 916-R has been pending for eighteen (18) years, during which nine (9) heirs have been waiting to receive their respective shares; (c) Of the eleven (11) lawyers who have rendered professional services in the case, only petitioner has registered any objection, the ten (10) others must be now anxious to have their fees adjudicated; (d) The case has passed through the hands of five (5) other Judges prior to respondent Judge Laya, and the records thereof have piled up to almost forty (40) volumes, hence if the case is assigned to another Judge, he will have to study the same for the first time. x x x."
Accordingly, Jesus Gaboya, then administrator of the estate, continued with the implementation of the order of August 15, 1969. Consequently, in 1970 and 1971, transfer certificates of title were issued in the names of the heirs by the Register of Deeds of the City and the Province of Cebu.

On January 12, 1979, the probate court, then presided by respondent Judge Francisco P. Burgos, issued two orders: (1) evaluating the estate at P15,000,000.00 and segregating 40% thereof or P6,000,000.00 for the payment of the claims for attorney’s fees; and (2) directing the Register of Deeds to annotate the claims for attorney’s fees in an amount corresponding to 40% of the market value of the estate.

On September 13, 1978, Atty. Domingo L. Antigua filed a motion praying for the surrender of the certificates of title in the names of the heirs or distributees in order that prospective buyers of the whole estate could inspect them.  The probate court, through Judge Burgos, granted the motion.  One of the administrators of the estate, Ricardo V. Reyes, filed a motion for the reconsideration of said order, claiming that he could not surrender the titles without the consent of the heirs in whose names the titles sought to be surrendered had been issued by the Register of Deeds of the City and Province of Cebu.

However, four years later or on August 31, 1982, Reyes made a turnaround and himself filed a motion for the surrender of the certificates of title involved in the proceedings for the reversion back to the estate of the distributed lands.  This motion was followed by another one jointly filed by Reyes, Atty. Antigua (as counsel for the heirs of Fortunato Borromeo) and Atty. Estenzo as lawyer-claimant and counsel for one of the administrators.

Before these two motions could be resolved by the probate court, herein petitioners, who are among the nine (9) heirs of Vito Borromeo, filed a motion for the disqualification of Judge Burgos on the grounds of bias and partiality.  Petitioners claimed that the sister of Atty. Antigua was married to a brother of Judge Burgos. Respondent Judge denied the motion for inhibition.  Hence, petitioners appealed the denial to the then Intermediate Appellate Court which, in its Decision dated March 1, 1983, reversed the probate court and disqualified Judge Burgos from taking cognizance of Special Proceedings No. 916-R. Said decision was appealed to this Court in G.R. No. 63818, with Judge Burgos joining the petitioners.

Notwithstanding his disqualification by the appellate court, Judge Burgos continued to take cognizance of Special Proceedings No. 916-R.  Petitioners thus manifested their refusal to recognize any further acts of Judge Burgos and subsequently filed before this Court a petition (G.R. No. 65995) to stop Judge Burgos from further hearing the case.

On February 23, 1984, Judge Burgos issued an order cancelling the certificates of title involved and reverting the parcels of land to the estate.

Petitioner’s sought the reconsideration of this order to no avail.  Hence, they filed a petition before the Intermediate Appellate Court (AC-G.R. SP No. 03409) raising the following issues for resolution: (a) the validity of the order of February 23, 1984 which was issued after Judge Burgos had been disqualified from hearing the case; (b) the jurisdiction of the probate court to order the cancellation of certificates of title which had been issued ten years earlier and the reversion of the property back to the estate; and (c) the validity of a collateral attack on titles to property in an intestate proceedings.

On September 23, 1985, the appellate court dismissed the petition on the ground that its filing violated Section 17 of the Interim Rules of Court which prescribes forum-shopping.

The Issue

It should be noted that there were three (3) cases which the respondent Court considered in declaring the petitioners guilty of forum-shopping, viz.:

1) G.R. No. 63818 - where the petitioners asked the Supreme Court to affirm the IAC’s decision disqualifying respondent Judge from taking cognizance of the probate proceedings (916-R);

2) G.R. No. 65995 - where petitioners sought to restrain and to invalidate all acts of respondent Judge after he was disqualified by the IAC;

3) AC-G.R. SP No. 03409 - the origin of the instant petition in this Court, in which petitioners prayed that the respondent Court enjoin respondent Judge from further taking cognizance of the probate proceedings (916-R).
The issue therefore may be re-stated thus: By their filing of the third case, did petitioners engage in forum-shopping as defined by Section 17 of the Interim Rules?

The Court’s Ruling

We concur with the respondent Court’s affirmative ruling on said question, which is quoted verbatim, as follows:
"Since G.R. No. L-65995 (Petra Borromeo, et al. vs. Hon. Francisco P. Burgos, etc., et al.), seeks to invalidate any and all proceedings and acts taken by the respondent Court subsequent to March 1, 1983, it clearly covers and includes the surrender to, and the cancellation by, the respondent Court, of the above enumerated certificates of title, which is an act by the respondent judge subsequent to March 1, 1983. The order (was) issued February 23, 1984.

"Specifically, the questioned order of February 23, 1984, listed among the incidents pending at the time the said Supreme Court petition was filed, in December, 1983, the following:
"’10. Motion for the surrender and subsequent cancellation of all the titles transferred in the names of the heirs at the instance of Jose Borromeo.’ (p. 25, rollo; italics supplied)
"Should the Supreme Court act affirmatively on G.R. No. L-65995, its judgment would nullify the respondent Judge’s order of February 23, 1984 precisely because it is covered by the aforesaid petition in G.R. No. L-65995. Incidentally, when this petition was filed, the petitioners (that, included the present petitioner, Jose Cuenco Borromeo) asked the Court to issue a restraining order, which the Supreme Court however, did not grant.  This enabled the respondent judge to act on the pending motion to require the surrender and the cancellation of the subject certificates of title (which were allegedly illegally transferred in the names of the heirs, at the instance of Jose Cuenco Borromeo, Petra Borromeo and Vitaliana Borromeo).  The order of February 23, 1984 thus granted the motion for surrender and cancellation of titles pending when the petition in G.R. No. L-65995 was filed.

"The conclusion is, therefore, inevitable, that this petition is not only similar to, but is truly, and actually covered by the petition in G.R. No. L-65995, Section 17 of the Interim Rules of Court reads, as follows:
"‘17. Petitions for writs of certiorari, etc. -No petition for certiorari, mandamus, prohibition, habeas corpus or quo warranto may be filed in the Intermediate Appellate Court if another similar petition has been filed or is still pending in the Supreme Court.  Nor may such petition be filed in the Supreme Court if a similar petition has been filed or is still pending in the Intermediate Appellate Court, unless it be to review the action taken by the Intermediate Appellate Court on the petition filed with it.  A violation of this rule shall constitute contempt of court and shall be a cause for the summary dismissal of both petitions.  Without prejudice to the taking of appropriate action against the counsel or party concerned.’
"Since this petition is not only similar to, but clearly an integral part of the pending petition in G.R. No. L-65995, Section 17 of the Interim Rules of Court has been violated.

"The penalty for violating the said Section 17 of the said Interim Rules, is ‘summary dismissal.’ It violates the rule against multiplicity of suits.  The petitioners should have waited the termination of his petition in G.R. No. L-65995 by the Supreme Court; or, he could have submitted a supplemental pleading therein alleging the matters in the instant petition."[3]
The appellate court also noted that the issues raised by petitioners are clearly premature for if the disqualification of Judge Burgos be affirmed in G.R. No. 63818, then it would certainly follow that all the acts taken by the said judge shall be invalidated for lack of legal authority.

Petitioners claim that Section 17 of the Interim Rules prohibits and penalizes only the filing of a special action in the Supreme Court when there is pending a special civil action for the same cause of action in the Court of Appeals.  They argue that what they filed in the Supreme Court was a special civil action while the case they brought before the Court of Appeals was an ordinary appeal from an order of the probate court in a special proceedings where multiple appeals are allowed.[4] This argument is flawed. What petitioners filed before the Court of Appeals in AC-G.R. SP No. 03409 was not an appeal under Rule 41 of the Revised Rules of Court but a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court and docketed as such action.  The petition prayed as follows:
"WHEREFORE, it is most respectfully prayed this Petition be given due course and a restraining order be immediately issued commanding the respondents to cease and desist from implementing the questioned orders (Annexes C and D) and from taking further cognizance of Sp. Proc. No. 916-R pending termination of this case and, after due deliberation a decision be rendered -

"a) declaring the said two orders null and void and without force and effect.

"b) ordering the respondent Judge to cease and desist from further taking cognizance of Sp. Proc. No. 916-R, and

"c) directing the respondents to respect the Rule of law.

"Petitioners further pray for such other relief and remedy consistent in the premises."[5]
Acting on the petition in G.R. No. 63818, this Court considered the issue of the disqualification of Judge Burgos as having been rendered moot and academic by the retirement of Judge Burgos from the judiciary in 1986.  However, in G.R. No. 65995, the Court granted the petition which sought to restrain the respondents from further acting on any and all incidents in Special Proceedings No. 916-R during the pendency of G.R. No. 63818 and G.R. No. 65995; and, which (petition) also prayed that "all acts of the respondents related to the said special proceedings after March 1, 1983 when the respondent Judge was disqualified by the appellate court be declared null and void and without force and effect whatsoever."

Consequently, petitioners’ goal of invalidating the probate court’s order of February 23, 1984 had been attained, since necessarily, all acts of the probate court subsequent to March 1, 1983 (the date when the then Intermediate Appellate Court disqualified Judge Burgos from taking cognizance of the case), have been rendered null and void by such disqualification.  Thus, by filing a petition before the appellate court even after they had filed G.R. No. 65995, petitioners engaged in forum-shopping as they deliberately split appeals, "in the hope that even as one case in which a particular remedy is sought is dismissed, another case (offering a similar remedy) would still be open" thereby needlessly clogging the already heavily burdened dockets of the courts.  In this regard, the Court unequivocally said in a similar case[6]:
"Section 17 of the Interim Rules and Guidelines issued by the Court on 11 January 1983, relative to the implementation of Section 9 of B.P. 129, granting the intermediate Appellate Court (now the Court of Appeals) equal original jurisdiction to issue the extraordinary writs of certiorari, prohibition, etc., whether or not in aid of its appellate jurisdiction, provides that if such a petition is filed before the Court of Appeals and is still pending therein, a similar petition cannot be filed in the Supreme Court.  A violation of this rule has also been considered a clear case of forum shopping, an act of malpractice proscribed as trifling with the courts and abusing their processes.  The Rule itself provides that a violation thereof constitutes: (1) cause for the summary dismissal of both petitions; and (2) contempt of court for which the party or counsel concerned may be held accountable." (citing Resolution of July 31, 1986, in G.R. No. 75197, E. Razon, Inc., et al. vs. Philippine Ports Authority, et al.; reiterated in Buan vs. Lopez, Jr., 145 SCRA 34, 38-39 [October 13, 1986], and in Alonto, Jr. vs. Memoracion [En Banc], 185 SCRA 73, 78-79 [May 7, 1990], and likewise in Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. vs. National Electrification Administration, 193 SCRA 250, 255-256 [January 23, 1991].)
Forum shopping as "the filing of repetitious suits in different courts” has been condemned by Justice Andres R. Narvasa (now Chief Justice) in Minister of Natural Resources, et al. vs. Heirs of Orval Hughes, et al., "as a reprehensible manipulation of court processes and proceedings x x x."[7] Indeed, forum shopping is reprehensible; it unduly burdens courts as it needlessly delays proceedings. In condemning it, the Court said in a recent case[8]:
"Ultimately, what is truly important to consider in determining whether forum-shopping exists or not is the vexation caused the courts and parties-litigant by a party who asks different courts to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs, in the process creating the possibility of conflicting decisions being rendered by the different fora upon the same issue."
WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review on certiorari is DENIED and the questioned decision of the Intermediate Appellate Court is AFFIRMED.  Counsel for petitioners, Basilio E. Duaban of Jose S. Amadora and Associates, is ADMONISHED and WARNED that similar acts of forum shopping shall be dealt with more severely.  A copy of this Decision shall be attached to the records of Atty. Duaban in the Office of the Bar Confidant.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa C.J. (Chairman), Melo, and Francisco, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., took no part due to prior participation in the proceedings before the trial court.


[1]
Rollo, pp. 20-39.

[2] Special First Special Cases Division, composed of J. Nathanael P. De Pano. Jr., ponente, JJ. Santiago M. Kapunan, chairman, and Luis A. Javellana, member.

[3] CA Decision, pp. 18-19; Rollo, pp. 37-38.

[4] Rollo, pp. 11-12.

[5] Rollo, pp. 20-21.

[6] Ruiz vs. Drillon, 209 SCRA 695 (June 9, 1992).

[7] 155 SCRA 566, at pp. 568 and 575 (November 12, 1987).

[8] First Philippine International Bank, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 115849, January 24, 1996.

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