356 Phil. 307

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 123871, August 31, 1998 ]

ALLIED BANKING CORPORATION, PETITIONER, VS. COURT OF APPEALS AND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, INC., RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

As a general rule, a trial court that has established jurisdiction over the main action also acquires jurisdiction over a third-party complaint, even if it could not have done so had the latter been filed as an independent action. This rule, however, does not apply to banks that have agreed to submit their disputes over check clearings to arbitration under the rules of the Philippine Clearing House Corporation. In that event, primary recourse should be to the PCHC Arbitration Committee, without prejudice to an appeal to the trial courts. In other words, without first resorting to the PCHC, the third-party complaint would be premature.

The Case

Before us is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45, assailing the Decision dated February 12, 1996 promulgated by the Court of Appeals[1] in CA-GR CV No. 44804; which affirmed the trial court’s Order dated September 16, 1991, dismissing petitioner’s third-party complaint against private respondent.[2]

Facts of the Case

The facts are undisputed. Reproduced hereunder is Respondent Court’s narration:

“Hyatt Terraces Baguio issued two crossed checks drawn against Allied Banking Corp. (hereinafter, ALLIED) in favor of appellee Meszellen Commodities Services, Inc. (hereinafter, MESZELLEN). Said checks were deposited on August 5, 1980 and August 18, 1980, respectively, with the now defunct Commercial Bank and Trust Company (hereinafter, COMTRUST). Upon receipt of the above checks, COMTRUST stamped at the back thereof the warranty “All prior endorsements and/or lack of endorsements guaranteed.” After the checks were cleared through the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (hereinafter, PCHC), ALLIED BANK paid the proceeds of said checks to COMTRUST as the collecting bank.

“On March 17, 1981, the payee, MESZELLEN, sued the drawee, ALLIED BANK, for damages which it allegedly suffered when the value[s] of the checks were paid not to it but to some other person.

“Almost ten years later, or on January 10, 1991, before defendant ALLIED BANK could finish presenting its evidence, it filed a third party complaint against Bank of the Philippine Islands (hereinafter, BPI, appellee herein) as successor-in-interest of COMTRUST, for reimbursement in the event that it would be adjudged liable in the main case to pay plaintiff, MESZELLEN. The third party complaint was admitted [in] an Order dated May 16, 1991 issued by the Regional Trial Court of Pasig, Branch 162. On July 16, 1991, BPI filed a motion to dismiss said third party complaint grounded on the following: 1) that the court ha[d] no jurisdiction over the nature of the action; and 2) that the cause of action of the third party plaintiff ha[d] already prescribed.

“On September 16, 1991, the trial court issued an order dismissing the third party complaint. Defendant-third party plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of this order was subsequently denied.”[3]

Respondent Court’s Ruling

Respondent Court affirmed the trial court thus:

“x x x Appellant’s submission that the cause of action of the third party plaintiff against the third party defendant accrued only when the complaint in the original case was filed on March 17, 1981 is untenable. As earlier discussed, the defendant has a separate cause of action (in respect of plaintiff’s complaint) against a third party in the original and principal case. Reviewing the third-party complaint below, that cause of action is the supposed erroneous endorsement made by COMTRUST for which ALLIED BANK is being held liable for damages by the payee-appellee. Without COMTRUST’s warranties as a general endorser, ALLIED BANK allegedly would not have paid on the checks. Should such warranties prove to be false and inaccurate, COMTRUST may be held liable for any damage arising out of the falsity of its representation.

“Based on the records the subject endorsement of COMTRUST was made in August 1980[;] and in the same period, ALLIED BANK paid on the subject checks. From that moment, ALLIED BANK could have instituted an action against COMTRUST. It is the legal possibility of bringing the action which determines the starting point for the computation of the period (Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines, Vol. IV, p. 41, citing Manresa). This is the moment when a cause of action may be deemed to accrue. Thus, considering that the third party complaint was filed more than ten years from August 1980, specifically on January 10, 1991, the same can no longer be entertained.

“Even granting arguendo that the lower court had jurisdiction over the third party complaint and the cause of action thereof had not yet prescribed, the filing of the third party complaint should nevertheless be disallowed considering that defendant has already presented several witnesses and is about ready to rest its case because, then, the allowance of the third party complaint would only delay the resolution of the original case. (Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. of the Phil. vs. Tempengko, supra, p. 423).

“A final word. We have noted the curious situation here where, instead of the payee suing its bank, i.e., the collecting bank (which is COMTRUST), it opted to sue the drawee bank (ALLIED BANK). It is, however, up to the trial court to rule on the propriety of the latter complaint.”[4]

Not satisfied with the above ruling, petitioner filed the present petition before this Court.[5]

The Issues

Petitioner raises the following issues:[6]

“I. The Respondent Honorable Court of Appeals erred in holding that the cause of action of the third-party complaint ha[d] already prescribed.

“II. The Respondent Honorable Court of Appeals erred in holding that the filing of the third party complaint should be disallowed as it would only delay the resolution of the case.”

On the other hand, private respondent argues that the trial court had no authority to admit a third-party claim that was filed by one bank against another and involved a check cleared through the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC). To the mind of the Court, this is the critical issue.

The Court’s Ruling

The petition is bereft of merit.

Critical Issue: Mandatory Recourse to PCHC

To buttress its claim, private respondent contends that petitioner’s remedy rests with the PCHC, of which both Allied and BPI are members, in consonance with the Clearing House Rules and Regulations which, in part, states:

“Sec. 38 - Arbitration

Any dispute or controversy between two or more clearing participants involving any check/item cleared thru PCHC shall be submitted to the Arbitration Committee, upon written complaint of any involved participant by filing the same with the PCHC serving the same upon the other party or parties, who shall within fifteen (15) days after receipt thereof file with the Arbitration Committee its written answer to such written complaint and also within the same period serve the same upon the complaining participant, xxx.”

Private respondent cites Banco de Oro Savings and Mortgage Bank v. Equitable Banking Corporation[7] and Associated Bank v. Court of Appeals,[8] which upheld the right of the PCHC to settle and adjudicate disputes between member banks. In Banco de Oro, the Court ruled:

“The participation of the two banks, petitioner and private respondent, in the clearing operations of PCHC is a manifestation of their submission to its jurisdiction. Secs. 3 and 36.6 of the PCHC-CHRR clearing rules and regulations provide:

Sec. 3. AGREEMENT TO THESE RULES. - It is the general agreement and understanding that any participant in the Philippine Clearing House Corporation, MICR clearing operations[,] by the mere fact of their participation, thereby manifests its agreement to these Rules and Regulations and its subsequent amendments.’

‘Sec. 36.6. (ARBITRATION) - The fact that a bank participates in the clearing operations of the PCHC shall be deemed its written and subscribed consent to the binding effect of this arbitration agreement as if it had done so in accordance with section 4 of (the) Republic Act. No. 876, otherwise known as the Arbitration Law.’

“Further[,] Section 2 of the Arbitration Law mandates:

‘Two or more persons or parties may submit to the arbitration of one or more arbitrators any controversy existing between them at the time of the submission and which may be the subject of any action, or the parties of any contract may in such contract agree to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising between them. Such submission or contract shall be valid and irrevocable, save upon grounds as exist at law for the revocation of any contract.

‘Such submission or contract may include question arising out of valuations, appraisals or other controversies which may be collateral, incidental, precedent or subsequent to any issue between the parties.’” (Italics supplied.)

Associated Bank also disallowed a similar third-party complaint, ruling thus:

“Under the rules and regulations of the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC), the mere act of participation of the parties concerned in its operations in effect amounts to a manifestation of agreement by the parties to abide by its rules and regulations. As a consequence of such participation, a party cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the courts over disputes and controversies which fall under the PCHC Rules and Regulations without first going through the arbitration processes laid out by the body. Since claims relating to the regularity of checks cleared by banking institutions are among those claims which should first be submitted for resolution by the PCHC’s Arbitration Committee, petitioner Associated Bank, having voluntarily bound itself to abide by such rules and regulations, is estopped from seeking relief from the Regional Trial Court on the coattails of a private claim and in the guise of a third party complaint without first having obtained a decision adverse to its claim from the said body. It cannot bypass the arbitration process on the basis of its averment that its third party complaint is inextricably linked to the original complaint in the Regional Trial Court.

x x x x x x x x x

“Clearly therefore, petitioner Associated Bank, by its voluntary participation and its consent to the arbitration rules cannot go directly to the Regional Trial Court when it finds it convenient to do so. The jurisdiction of the PCHC under the rules and regulations is clear, undeniable and is particularly applicable to all the parties in the third party complaint under their obligation to first seek redress of their disputes and grievances [from] the PCHC before going to the trial court.

“Finally, the contention that the third party complaint should not have been dismissed for being a necessary and inseparable offshoot of the main case over which the court a quo had already exercised jurisdiction misses the fundamental point about such pleading. A third party complaint is a mere procedural device which under the Rules of Court is allowed only with the court’s permission. It is an action ‘actually independent of, separate and distinct from the plaintiffs’ complaint’ (s)uch that, were it not for the Rules of Court, it would be necessary to file the action separately from the original complaint by the defendant against the third party.” (Italics supplied.)

Banco de Oro and Associated Bank are clear and unequivocal: a third-party complaint of one bank against another involving a check cleared through the PCHC is unavailing, unless the third-party claimant has first exhausted the arbitral authority of the PCHC Arbitration Committee and obtained a decision from said body adverse to its claim.

Recognizing the role of the PCHC in the arbitration of disputes between participating banks, the Court in Associated Bank further held: “Pursuant to its function involving the clearing of checks and other clearing items, the PCHC has adopted rules and regulations designed to provide member banks with a procedure whereby disputes involving the clearance of checks and other negotiable instruments undergo a process of arbitration prior to submission to the courts below. This procedure not only ensures a uniformity of rulings relating to factual disputes involving checks and other negotiable instruments but also provides a mechanism for settling minor disputes among participating and member banks which would otherwise go directly to the trial courts.”

We defer to the primary authority of PCHC over the present dispute, because its technical expertise in this field enables it to better resolve questions of this nature. This is not prejudicial to the interest of any party, since primary recourse to the PCHC does not preclude an appeal to the regional trial courts on questions of law. Section 13 of the PCHC Rules reads:

“Sec. 13. The findings of facts of the decision or award rendered by the Arbitration Committee or by the sole Arbitrator as the case may be shall be final and conclusive upon all the parties in said arbitration dispute. The decision or award of the Arbitration Committee or of the Sole Arbitrator shall be appealable only on questions of law to any of the Regional Trial Courts in the National Capital Judicial Region where the Head Office of any of the parties is located. The appellant shall perfect his appeal by filing a notice of appeal to the Arbitration Secretariat and filing a Petition with the Regional Trial Court of the National Capital Region xxx.”

Furthermore, when the error is so patent, gross and prejudicial as to constitute grave abuse of discretion, courts may address questions of fact already decided by the arbitrator.[9]

We are not unaware of the rule that a trial court, which has jurisdiction over the main action, also has jurisdiction over the third party complaint, even if the said court would have had no jurisdiction over it had it been filed as an independent action.[10] However, this doctrine does not apply in the case of banks, which have given written and subscribed consent to arbitration under the auspices of the PCHC.

By participating in the clearing operations of the PCHC, petitioner agreed to submit disputes of this nature to arbitration. Accordingly, it cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the trial courts without a prior recourse to the PCHC Arbitration Committee. Having given its free and voluntary consent to the arbitration clause, petitioner cannot unilaterally take it back according to its whim. In the world of commerce, especially in the field of banking, the promised word is crucial. Once given, it may no longer be broken.

Upon the other hand, arbitration as an alternative method of dispute-resolution is encouraged by this Court. Aside from unclogging judicial dockets, it also hastens solutions especially of commercial disputes.

In view of the foregoing, a discussion of the issues raised by the petitioners is unnecessary.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., (Chairman), Bellosillo, Vitug and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.



[1] Fifth Division composed of JJ. Bernardo Ll. Salas, ponente; with the concurrence of J. Pedro A. Ramirez, chairman; and J. Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, member.

[2] Regional Trial Court of Pasig, Branch 162.

[3] CA Decision, pp. 1-2; rollo, pp. 24-25.

[4] Ibid., pp. 4-6; Rollo, pp. 27-29.

[5] This case was deemed submitted for resolution on February 26, 1998, upon receipt by the Court of petitioner’s Reply Memorandum.

[6] Petition, p. 6; Rollo, p. 16.

[7] 157 SCRA 188, January 20, 1988, per Gancayco, J.

[8] 233 SCRA 137, June 14, 1994, per Kapunan, J.

[9] Asia Construction and Development Corporation v. Construction Industry Arbitration Commission, 218 SCRA 529, February 8, 1993; Sime Darby v. Deputy Administrator, 180 SCRA 177, December 15, 1989.

[10] Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. 1, 5th revised ed., p. 95; Republic v. Central Surety and Insurance Co., 25 SCRA 641, October 26, 1968; Eastern Assurance & Surety Corporation v. Cui, 105 SCRA 622, July 20, 1981; Talisay-Silay Milling Co. Inc. and J. Amado Araneta v. CIR and Central Azucarera del Danao, 18 SCRA 894, November 29, 1966.



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