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415 Phil. 705


[ G.R. No. 138869, August 21, 2001 ]




This is an appeal by certiorari from a decision rendered by the Court of Appeals dated January 22, 1999[1] which dismissed the petition for certiorari with prayer for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order filed by petitioner David So, and its Resolution dated May 21, 1999 denying the Motion for Reconsideration.[2]

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court of Appeals:

"The undisputed antecedent facts show that the petitioner was the accused in Criminal Cases Nos. 8345 and 8346 pending in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 146, Makati City for violation of BP 22 on the basis of PCB Check 393662 dated January 6, 1983 in the amount of P6,000.00 and PCB Check No. 393663 dated January 10, 1983 in the amount of P28,600.00 which he issued to Faustino Puzon and which were both dishonored by the drawee bank for the reason "Account Closed".

However, at the time of the issuance of the aforesaid checks, Circular No. 4 dated December 15, 1981 of the then Ministry of Justice was in effect.  The circular provides:

'2.3.4.  Where issuance of bouncing check is neither estafa nor violation of B.P. Blg. 22.

Where the check is issued as part of an arrangement to guarantee or secure payment of an obligation, whether pre-existing or not, the drawer is not criminally liable for either estafa or violation of B.P. Blg. 22 x x x.'

This circular was subsequently reversed by Ministry Circular No. 12 dated August 8, 1984 which reads:

"Henceforth, conforming with the rule that an administrative agency having interpreting authority may reverse its administrative interpretation of a statute, but that its new interpretation applies only prospectively x x x, in all cases involving violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 where the check in question is issued after this date, the claim that the check is issued as a guarantee or part of an arrangement to secure an obligation or to facilitate collection will no longer be considered as valid defense."

In a decision dated May 19, 1987, the trial court convicted him of the offense charged.  He appealed his conviction before this Court which, in a decision dated November 12, 1990 the conviction was affirmed.  Forthwith, he appealed to the Supreme Court and the same was denied due course.

On April 1, 1988, after the Supreme Court decision had become final and executory, the trial court issued a warrant of arrest against the petitioner in order to execute the judgment of conviction in Criminal Cases Nos. 8345 and 8346.

On August 4, 1998, petitioner filed with the trial court an "Urgent Motion for Declaration of Nullity of Judgment" x x x invoking the doctrine laid down in the case of People vs. Co (should be Co vs. Court of Appeals) [227 SCRA 444] whereby the Supreme Court rendered that:

"It would seem, then, that the weight of authority is decidedly in favor of the proposition that the Court's decision of September 21, 1987 in Que vs. People, 154 SCRA 160 (1987) - i.e., that a check issued merely to guarantee the performance of an obligation is nevertheless covered by B.P. 22 - should not be given retrospective effect to the prejudice of the petitioner and other persons similarly situated, who relied on the official opinion of the Minister of Justice that such a check did not fall within the scope of B.P. 22."

Petitioner claims that the facts of the said case are similar to his case, that is, he issued the subject checks to guarantee or secure the performance of his obligation with the complainant.  He thereby prayed for the declaration of nullity of the decision of the trial court.

In an Order dated September 11, 1998 x x x the trial court denied the Motion.  He then filed a Motion for Reconsideration which, in an Order dated October 9, 1998 x x x was also denied by the trial court.  x x x"[3]

Petitioner David So filed with the Court of Appeals a Petition for Certiorari with prayer for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order seeking to enjoin the execution of the judgment of the trial court.  The Court of Appeals issued on December 8, 1998 a temporary restraining order enjoining the trial court from implementing the warrant of arrest.  On January 22, 1999, respondent appellate court rendered a decision dismissing the petition for certiorari after finding that the case of Co vs. Court of Appeals did not apply to petitioner's case where the trial court ruled that the checks were issued in exchange for cash.  Hence this petition.

The issue of whether the ruling in Co vs. Court of Appeals applies hinges primarily on the question of whether the checks issued by petitioner were guarantee checks or not.

We find no merit in the petition.

There is no dispute that when the checks subject of Criminal Cases Nos. 8345 and 8346 were issued by petitioner in 1983, Ministry of Justice Circular No. 4, dated December 15, 1981, was then in force which declared that the issuance of a check as part of an arrangement to guarantee or secure payment of an obligation, whether pre-existing or not, does not constitute estafa nor a violation of B.P. 22.  However, this interpretation was reversed by Ministry Circular No. 12, dated August 8, 1984, which stated that for all checks issued after said date, the claim that the check was issued as a guarantee or part of an arrangement to secure an obligation will no longer be considered as a valid defense.

Records show that during the trial of the case before the Regional Trial Court, petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss (Demurrer to Evidence) wherein he averred that Circular No. 4 should be applied to his case and that Circular No. 12 cannot be given retrospective application.[4] In a decision dated July 24, 1987, the trial court rendered judgment finding petitioner guilty of the offense charged and holding that the checks were issued in exchange for cash.  This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.  The petition for review on certiorari filed with this Court, and docketed as G.R. No. 108209, was subsequently denied in a minute resolution dated February 10, 1993.  Thereafter, entry of judgment was made on June 21, 1993.

It will be noted that in G.R. No. 108209, petitioner raised the following arguments: (1) that the two checks were issued in payment of a loan and hence his conviction infringes his constitutional right not to be imprisoned for non-payment of a debt; (2) that the two checks were issued as mere guarantee and hence covered under MOJ Circular No. 4; and (3) that MOJ Circular No. 12 cannot be given retroactive effect.

In the case at bar, petitioner is raising exactly the same issues passed upon in G.R. No. 108209, under the guise, however, of invoking the ruling in Co vs. Court of Appeals that the doctrine laid down in Que vs. People - that B.P. 22 applies even in cases where dishonored checks are issued merely in the form of a deposit or a guarantee- should not be given retrospective application.

It bears to stress that contrary to petitioner's asseveration, the trial court found that the checks were issued in exchange for cash, and not to guarantee payment of a loan.  The judgment of the court is to the effect that MOJ Circular Nos. 4 and 12, which involve guarantee checks only, do not apply to the case of petitioner because what is involved here is a transaction not for guarantee but for value or in exchange for cash.  The Court of Appeals affirmed this finding of fact.  This finding was again affirmed by this Court in G.R. No. 108209 when in a minute resolution it denied due course to the petition for certiorari filed by petitioner.  Our minute resolution is deemed a disposition on the merits and has the effect of resolving the issues raised therein.  It constitutes res judicata to the case at bar.[5] Petitioner is now bound by such adverse judgment on account of finality of judgment.  It has to be so, otherwise, there would be no end to litigation.  Litigation must end and terminate sometime and somewhere, and it is essential to an effective administration of justice that once a judgment has become final, the issue or cause therein should be laid to rest.[6] Even an alleged erroneous application of a legal principle cannot bring a judgment that has already attained the status of finality to an absolute nullity under the well-entrenched rule of finality of judgment.  This rule is grounded on the fundamental principle of public policy and sound practice that at the risk of occasional error, the judgment of the court must become final at some definite date fixed by law.[7]

Considering that the cases of Co vs. Court of Appeals and Que vs. People likewise involve the issuance of guarantee checks, the doctrinal rulings enunciated therein cannot properly be applied to petitioner's case.

Moreover, the trial court was correct in denying petitioner's "Urgent Motion for Declaration of Nullity of Judgment" for lack of jurisdiction. Section 9 of B.P. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, explicity provides under paragraph 2 thereof that the Court of Appeals shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over actions for annulment of judgments of the Regional Trial Courts.  Besides, an annulment of judgment may be availed of only in case of extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction,[8] which obviously are not obtaining in the case at bar.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit.  The Temporary Restraining Order issued on July 5, 1999 is hereby LIFTED.  Let this case be remanded to the Regional Trial Court, Makati City, Branch 146 for execution of judgment.


Davide, Jr., CJ., (Chairman), Kapunan, Pardo, and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.


[1] Annex A, Petition;  Rollo, 18;  Associate Justice Candido V. Rivera, ponente, with Quirino D. Abad Santos, Jr. and Bernardo LL. Salas, JJ., concurring.

[2] Annex C, id.;  Ibid., 28.

[3] Rollo, 18-20.

[4] Rollo, CA-G.R. SP No. 49680, p. 3.

[5] Bernarte, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., 263 SCRA 323 (1996).

[6] Zansibarian Residents Association vs. Municipality of Makati, 135 SCRA 235 (1985);  Gonzales, et al. vs. Secretary of Labor, et al., 116 SCRA 573 (1982).

[7] Reyes vs. CA, et al., 264 SCRA 35 (1996); Soliven vs. WCC, et al., 77 SCRA 518 (1977).

[8] "Rule 47, Sec. 2.  Grounds for annulment. - The annulment may be based only on the grounds of extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction.

Extrinsic fraud shall not be a valid ground if it was availed of, or could have been availed of, in a motion for new trial or petition for relief."

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