427 Phil. 532

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 127536, February 19, 2002 ]

CESAR JARO, PETITIONER, VS. HON. COURT OF APPEALS, THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM ADJUDICATION BOARD (DARAB), AND ROSARIO VDA. DE PELAEZ, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

Rules of procedure are essential to the proper, efficient and orderly dispensation of justice.  Such rules are to be applied in a manner that will help secure and not defeat justice.  Thus, we have ruled against the dismissal of appeals based solely on technicalities, especially so when the appellant had substantially complied with the formal requirements.  Substantial compliance warrants a prudent and reasonable relaxation of the rules of procedure.  Circumspect leniency will give the appellant “the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his complaint rather than to lose life, liberty, honor or property on technicalities.”[1]

The Case

Petitioner Cesar Jaro (“petitioner” for brevity) seeks the reversal of the three resolutions[2] of the Court of Appeals (Eleventh Division), dated October 23, 1996, November 15, 1996 and January 6, 1997, that dismissed his petition in CA-G.R. SP No. 42231.  The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for failure to comply with the requirements of Supreme Court Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95 and Administrative Circular No. 3-96.

The Antecedent Facts

On November 12, 1992, Rosario Vda. de Pelaez (“respondent” for brevity) filed a complaint for prohibition under Section 27 of the Agricultural Tenancy Act (R.A. No. 1199) against petitioner before the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, Provincial Adjudicator Board, Lucena City, Quezon (“Provincial Adjudicator” for brevity).  Respondent alleged in the complaint that the late Rosenda Reyes y Padua (“Rosenda” for brevity) was the original owner of a parcel of coconut land covered by TCT No. T-79099 with an area of 3.0896 hectares, situated in Barangay Mangilag Norte, Candelaria, Quezon.  Rosenda allegedly instituted respondent and her husband, the late Igmedio Pelaez, as tenants of the land.  In 1978, Ricardo Padua Reyes (“Ricardo” for brevity), the heir of Rosenda, sold the land to petitioner who, respondent alleged, now wants to eject respondent from the land.

In his Answer, petitioner countered that respondent is not and had never been a tenant of the land for respondent never shared in the harvests nor was respondent given any share as payment for her work. In 1978, when petitioner purchased the land from Ricardo, petitioner allowed respondent to remain on the land allegedly with the understanding that petitioner could remove respondent’s house at any time if petitioner so desired.

On October 6, 1993, the Provincial Adjudicator rendered a decision[3] in favor of petitioner. In ruling that respondent was not a tenant, the Provincial Adjudicator noted that the affidavits presented as evidence were conflicting and the inconsistencies therein were material to the resolution of the case. The affidavit executed by Ricardo in November, 1992, presented by respondent as evidence, contradicted an earlier affidavit of Ricardo, executed by him on May 15, 1978. In the affidavit dated November, 1992, executed 14 years after he had sold the land, Ricardo stated that respondent is a tenant of the land.  However, in his 1978 affidavit, Ricardo declared that the land is not tenanted and is not covered by the agrarian reform program since it is neither rice nor corn land. The Provincial Adjudicator also held that the joint affidavit executed by respondent with her husband on May 15, 1978 was an admission that they were not tenants of the land. In that joint affidavit, the spouses stated that they are mere occupants by virtue of the landowner’s generosity, and they are willing to vacate the same in case it is sold to another person.

The dispositive portion of the Provincial Adjudicator’s decision reads:
“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant case is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.”[4]
Respondent appealed the adverse decision to the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board in Diliman, Quezon City (“DARAB” for brevity).

On April 22, 1996, the DARAB issued its decision reversing the decision[5] of the Provincial Adjudicator. The DARAB ruled that the land in question is agricultural and the applicable agrarian law is Republic Act No. 1199, the Agricultural Tenancy Act, and not Presidential Decree No. 27 which applies only to tenanted rice or corn lands covered by Operation Land Transfer. While the joint affidavit of respondent and her husband and the earlier affidavit of Ricardo declared that the land was untenanted, the DARAB nonetheless found substantial evidence to show that respondent is indeed a tenant of the land in question.   The DARAB gave more weight to the November, 1992 affidavit of Ricardo which stated that his mother, Rosenda, instituted respondent and her spouse as tenants of the land. The DARAB resolved the issue of the conflicting affidavits in this wise:
“The inconsistencies between the affidavits executed by the spouses Igmidio and Rosario Pelaez dated May 15, 1978, as well as, the affidavit executed by Ricardo Padua Reyes and the two (2) other affidavits executed in November, 1992 by the same persons, deserve a closer look.  While the former affidavits attested that the land formerly owned by Rosenda Padua Reyes was not tenanted, it was executed for purposes of facilitating the sale of the landholding to a third party.”[6]
The DARAB also took notice of the “practice of the landowners, by way of evading the provision of tenancy laws, to have their tenants sign contracts or agreements intended to camouflage the real import of their relationship.”[7]

Applying RA No. 1199, the DARAB declared that respondent enjoys security of tenure as tenant of the land there being no showing that she had renounced her rights as such.

The dispositive portion of the DARAB decision reads:
“WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing considerations, the challenged decision dated October 6, 1993 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  A new order is hereby entered:
  1. Ordering defendant Cesar Jaro to recognize plaintiff Rosario Vda. de Pelaez as his de jure tenant and to maintain her in peaceful possession and cultivation of the land subject of this case; and

  2. Ordering Cesar Jaro and Rosario Vda. de Pelaez  to enter into a leasehold contract over the land in question with the technical assistance of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office of Candelaria, Quezon.

Let the entire records of this case be remanded to the Adjudicator a quo for the immediate execution of this new ORDER.

SO ORDERED.”[8]
On August 23, 1996, the DARAB denied the Motion for Reconsideration of petitioner in a Resolution that reads:
“WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the motion for reconsideration is hereby denied.

SO ORDERED.“[9]
Aggrieved, petitioner filed an appeal on certiorari with the Court of Appeals pursuant to Section 1, Rule XIV of the DARAB’s New Rules of Procedure.  On October 23, 1996, the Court of Appeals issued a Resolution dismissing outright the petition.  The Resolution reads:
“Upon examination of the present appeal on certiorari, the Court RESOLVED to outrightly  DISMISS the same for the following reasons:
(a)
it should be in the form of a petition for review as required by Supreme Court Revised Adm. Circ. No. 1-95; and
(b)
the annexes to the petition are certified  as true xerox copy by counsel for the petitioner, and not by the proper public official who has custody of the records, in violation of the same Circular and Adm. Circ. No. 3-96.
SO ORDERED.”[10]
On November 5, 1996, before receipt of the Resolution of the Court of Appeals dismissing his petition, petitioner filed his Amended Petition.  On November 8, 1996, upon verification that his petition had been dismissed, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration and for Admission of Amended Petition.

On November 15, 1996, the Court of Appeals issued a Resolution denying the Motion for Reconsideration and for Admission of Amended Petition of petitioner.  The Resolution reads:
“Acting on the Motion for Reconsideration and for Admission of Amended Petition, dated November 8, 1996, filed by the petitioner and considering that Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 3-96 trenchantly provides that:
“It shall be the duty and responsibility of the party using the documents required by Paragraph (3) of Circular No. 1-88 (certified true copies of judgment or  resolution sought to be reviewed) to verify and ensure compliance with all the requirements therefor as detailed in the preceding paragraphs.  Failure to do so shall result in the rejection of such annexes and the dismissal of the case.  Subsequent compliance shall not warrant any consideration unless the court is fully satisfied that the non-compliance was not in any way attributable to the party, despite due diligence on his part, and that there are highly justifiable and compelling reasons for the court to make such other disposition as it may deem just and equitable.  (underscoring supplied)
and considering further that non-compliance in the original petition is admittedly attributable to the petitioner and that no highly justifiable and compelling reason has been advanced for us to depart from the mandatory  requirements of the  Circular, we RESOLVED to DENY the motion for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.”[11]
On December 13, 1996, petitioner again filed a Manifestation and Motion praying for the admission of his amended petition.

On January 6, 1997, the Court of Appeals denied the motions of petitioner in a Resolution that reads:
“Since under Section 11 of BP Blg. 129, Section 4 of the Interim Rules and Section 3, Rule 9 of the Revised Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals, as amended, no second motion for reconsideration from the same party of a decision or final resolution/order is allowed, the herein Manifestation and Motion, dated December 12, 1996, filed by the petitioner, which is in effect a second motion for reconsideration, is hereby DENIED.

SO ORDERED.”[12]
Hence, this petition.

The Issue

Petitioner raises this issue before us:
“IS PETITIONER ENTITLED TO AN ANNULMENT OF THE IMPUGNED DECISION AND RESOLUTIONS OF THE DARAB AND THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS?”[13]
The Court’s Ruling

The petition has merit. Without in any way implying that the DARAB decision and resolution are void, we agree with petitioner that the Court of Appeals’ dismissal of the amended petition on purely technical grounds was unwarranted.

We first address petitioner’s contention that the DARAB decision and resolution are void because of respondent’s alleged failure to pay the appeal fee when respondent appealed the decision of the Provincial Adjudicator to the DARAB.  The non-payment of the appeal fee would have rendered the decision of the Provincial Adjudicator, which was favorable to petitioner, as the final adjudication of the case.  The DARAB then would have no jurisdiction to rule on the case and the eventual dismissal of the petition by the Court of Appeals would amount to nothing because the Provincial Adjudicator’s decision would still stand as final judgment.

We are not persuaded.  Petitioner failed to substantiate his claim that respondent failed to pay the appeal fee.  There is nothing in the records to support this allegation. What the records show is that petitioner filed with the DARAB a Motion to Dismiss the Appeal[14] of respondent, but petitioner did not even cite in said motion respondent’s alleged failure to pay the appeal fee as one of the grounds for the dismissal of respondent’s appeal.  The fact that the non-payment of the appeal fee is belatedly raised as an issue before us is a clear indication that this issue was just an afterthought.

Petitioner maintains that even if respondent is a pauper litigant exempted from paying the appeal fee, the DARAB decision is still void because it “is predicated on speculations, surmises, conjectures and suspicions”.[15] The DARAB’s alleged disregard of the fundamental principles of evidence tainted the decision with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, making its decision a mere scrap of paper.

We do not agree. A perusal of the decision of the DARAB does not show that its rulings are so glaringly erroneous as to constitute serious abuse of discretion. The term “grave abuse of discretion” has a technical and settled meaning. Grave abuse of discretion implies a capricious and whimsical exercise of power amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, or the exercise of power in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility. The abuse of discretion must be so patent and so gross as to amount  to an evasion of a positive legal duty or a virtual refusal to perform such duty.[16]

The perceived errors committed by the DARAB, if at all, merely amount to errors of judgment, not errors of jurisdiction.  The errors that a court may commit in the exercise of jurisdiction differ from errors of judgment. An error of judgment is one that the court may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction.[17] Such an error does not make the court’s decision void and it may serve only as a ground for reversal if it is shown that prejudice has been caused by it.[18] An error of judgment can be reviewed only by an appeal.[19] On the other hand, an error of jurisdiction is one where the act complained of was issued by the court, officer or a quasi-judicial body without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion which is tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction.[20] An error of jurisdiction renders a judgment void or at least voidable and which error is correctable only by the extraordinary writ of certiorari.[21]

As stated earlier, the DARAB decision on its face does not show that the DARAB blatantly misapplied the fundamental rules of evidence to the facts of the case.  The DARAB decision was thus the proper subject of a petition for review.   The next crucial issue for our consideration is whether the Court of Appeals committed reversible error when it dismissed outright the appeal and refused to give due course to the amended petition.

At the time that petitioner appealed the DARAB decision to the Court of Appeals, Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95[22] was then the rule that governed appeals to the Court of Appeals from judgments or final orders of the Court of Tax Appeals and quasi-judicial agencies, including the DARAB.[23] Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95 has now been formulated as Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Court.[24]

Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95 prescribed the manner by which the appeal was to be taken to the Court of Appeals, to wit:
“5.  How appeal taken. – Appeal shall be taken by filing a verified petition for review in seven (7) legible copies with the Court of Appeals, with proof of service of a copy thereof on the adverse party and on the court or agency a quo. The original copy of the petition intended for the Court of Appeals shall be indicated as such by petitioner.

Upon filing the petition for review, the petitioner shall pay to the Clerk of Court of the Court of Appeals the docketing and other lawful fees and deposit the sum of P500.00 for costs.  Exemption from payment of docketing and other lawful fees and the deposit for costs may be granted by the Court of Appeals upon a verified motion setting forth valid grounds therefor.  If the Court of Appeals denies the motion, the petitioner shall pay the docketing and other lawful fees and deposit for costs within fifteen (15) days from notice of the denial.

6. Contents of the petition.—  The petition for review shall (a) state the full names of the parties to the case, without impleading the court or agencies either as petitioners or respondents; (b) contain a concise statement of the facts and issues involved and the grounds relied upon for the review; (c) be accompanied by a clearly legible  duplicate original or a certified true copy of the award, judgment, final order or resolution  appealed from, together with certified true copies of such material portions of the record as are referred to therein and other supporting papers; (d) state all the specific material dates showing that it was filed within the reglementary period provided herein; and (e) contain a sworn certification against forum shopping as required in Revised Circular No. 28-91.”
The circular stated that failure to comply with the foregoing requirements would be sufficient ground for the dismissal of the appeal.

The terms “certified true copy” and “duplicate original” as found in paragraph 6 (c) of Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95 were clarified in Administrative Circular No. 3-96 which further provided that:
“1. The “duplicate original copy” shall be understood to be that copy of the decision, judgment, resolution or order which is intended for and furnished to a party in the case or proceeding in the court or adjudicative body which rendered and issued the same.  The “certified true copy” thereof shall be such other copy furnished to a party at his instance or in his behalf, duly authenticated by the authorized officers or representatives of the issuing entity as herein before specified.

2. The duplicate original copy must be duly signed or initialed by the authorities or the corresponding officer or representative of the issuing entity, or shall at least bear the dry seal thereof or any other official indication of the authenticity and completeness of such copy.  For this purpose, all courts, offices or agencies furnishing such copies which may be used in accordance with Paragraph (3) of Revised Circular No. 1-88 shall make arrangements for and designate the personnel who shall be charged with the implementation of this requirement.

x x x

5. It shall be the duty and responsibility of the party using the documents required  by Paragraph (3) of Circular No. 1-88 to verify and ensure compliance with all the requirements therefor as detailed in the preceding paragraphs.  Failure to do so shall result in the rejection of such annexes and the dismissal of the case.  Subsequent compliance shall not warrant any reconsideration unless the court is fully satisfied that the non-compliance was not in any way attributable to the party, despite due diligence on his part, and that there are highly justifiable and compelling reasons for the court to make such other disposition as it may deem just and equitable.”
To recall, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for two reasons. First, the appeal was not in the form of a petition for review as required by Supreme Court Revised Administrative Circular No. 1-95.  Second, the annexes attached to the petition were neither duplicate originals nor were they certified true copies. The annexes were only certified as true xerox copies by the counsel of petitioner, not by the authority or the corresponding officer or representative of the issuing entity, in contravention of Administrative Circular No. 3-96.

While we agree with the Court of Appeals that the defective petition deserved to be dismissed, the amended petition filed by petitioner should have been given due course.  Petitioner filed the amended petition, now in proper form, accompanied by annexes, all of which were certified true copies by the DARAB.  This is more than substantial compliance.

In Cadayona vs. Court of Appeals,[25] we held that Section 6 of Rule 43[26] does not require that all of the supporting papers or annexes accompanying the petition should be certified true copies or duplicate originals.  What is mandatory is to attach the clearly legible duplicate originals or certified true copies of the judgment or final orders of the lower courts.  Not only did petitioner attach to his amended petition and motion for reconsideration certified true copies of the assailed DARAB decision and resolution, petitioner also attached certified true copies of other supporting documents.  Petitioner on his own initiative complied with the required attachments when he filed the amended petition.

The amended petition no longer contained the fatal defects that the original petition had but the Court of Appeals still saw it fit to dismiss the amended petition.  The Court of Appeals reasoned that “non-compliance in the original petition is admittedly attributable to the petitioner and that no highly justifiable and compelling reason has been advanced”[27] to the court for it to depart from the mandatory requirements of Administrative Circular No. 3-96.  The hard stance taken by the Court of Appeals in this case is unjustified under the circumstances.

There is ample jurisprudence holding that the subsequent and substantial compliance of an appellant may call for the relaxation of the rules of procedure.  In Cusi-Hernandez vs. Diaz[28] and Piglas-Kamao vs. National Labor Relations Commission[29], we ruled that the subsequent submission of the missing documents with the motion for reconsideration amounts to substantial compliance. The reasons behind the failure of the petitioners in these two cases to comply with the required attachments were no longer scrutinized.  What we found noteworthy in each case was the fact that the petitioners therein substantially complied with the formal requirements.  We ordered the remand of the petitions in these cases to the Court of Appeals, stressing the ruling that by precipitately dismissing the petitions “the appellate court clearly put a premium on technicalities at the expense of a just resolution of the case”.

We cannot see why the same leniency cannot be extended to petitioner. In the instant case, petitioner lost no time in rectifying the flaws in his petition when he realized that the original petition he filed was in danger of being dismissed.  Petitioner did not wait for the filing of his motion for reconsideration to do this.  Petitioner filed his amended petition with the attached certified true copies of the decisions and other supporting documents even before receipt of the resolution of the Court of Appeals dismissing his original petition.  Petitioner again manifested for the admission of the amended petition in his motion for reconsideration. Clearly, petitioner had demonstrated willingness to comply with the requirements set out in the two circulars.

If we were to apply the rules of procedure in a very rigid and technical sense, as what the Court of Appeals would have it in this case, the ends of justice would be defeated.  In Cusi-Hernandez vs. Diaz[30], where the formal requirements were liberally construed and substantial compliance was recognized, we explained that rules of procedure are mere tools designed to expedite the decision or resolution of cases and other matters pending in court.  Hence, a strict and rigid application of technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice must be avoided.  We further declared that:
“Cases should be determined on the merits, after full opportunity to all parties for ventilation of their causes and defenses, rather than on technicality or some procedural imperfections.  In that way, the ends of justice would be served better.”[31]
In the similar case of Piglas-Kamao vs. National Labor Relations Commission,[32] we stressed the policy of the courts to encourage the full adjudication of the merits of an appeal.

Here, the decisions of the Provincial Adjudicator and the DARAB are in sharp conflict with each other. The Court of Appeals could have broken this impasse by giving due course to petitioner’s appeal.  The Court of Appeals is in a better position to fully adjudicate the instant case for it can delve into the records to determine the probative value of the evidence supporting the findings of the Provincial Adjudicator and of the DARAB.[33] After all, the Court of Appeals is empowered by its Revised Internal Rules[34] to require parties to submit additional documents, as it may find necessary to promote the ends of substantial justice. Moreover, the Court of Appeals could order that the original records of the case be elevated to it for the full adjudication of the case.  Thus, the remand of this case to the Court of Appeals is necessary for it to decide the appeal on the merits.

WHEREFORE, the resolutions of the Court of Appeals dated October 23, 1996, November 15, 1996 and January 6, 1997 are SET ASIDE.  The case is REMANDED to the Court of Appeals which is DIRECTED to reinstate and give due course to the petition for review in CA-G.R. SP No. 42231, and to decide the same on the merits.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Vitug, Panganiban, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.



[1] Alberto vs. Court of Appeals, 756 SCRA 334 (2000).

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Salvador J. Valdez, with Associate Justice Chairman Minerva P. Gonzaga-Reyes and Associate Justice Ramon U. Mabutas, concurring.

[3] Penned by Provincial Adjudicator Conchita C. Minas.

[4] Rollo, p. 48.

[5] Members of the DARAB who concurred with the decision are as follows: Assistant Secretaries/Members Hector D. Soliman, Lorenzo R. Reyes, Augusto P. Quijano, and Sergio B. Serrano.  Secretary/Chairman Ernesto D. Garilao and Undersecretaries/Members Renato B. Padilla and Jose Noel D. Olano did not take part.

[6] Rollo, p. 58.

[7] Ibid., p. 59, citing Cruz vs. Court of Appeals, 129 SCRA 224 (1984).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 65.

[10] Ibid., p. 28.

[11] Ibid., p. 29.

[12] Ibid., p. 31.

[13] Ibid., p. 113.

[14] Records, p. 44.

[15] Rollo, p. 10.

[16] Cuison vs. Court of Appeals, 289 SCRA 171 (1998).

[17] FLORENZ D. REGALADO, REMEDIAL LAW COMPENDIUM, VOL. 1, p. 7.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Fortich vs. Corona, 289 SCRA 642 (1998).

[21] Regalado, supra, see note 17, p. 7.

[22] Took effect on June 1, 1995.

[23] “1. Scope. – These rules shall apply to appeals from judgments or final orders of the Court of Tax Appeals and from awards, judgments, final orders or resolutions of or authorized by any quasi-judicial agency in the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions.  Among these agencies are the Civil Service Commission, Central Board of Assessment Appeals, Securities and Exchange Commission, Land Registration Authority, Social Security Commission, Office of the President, Civil Aeronautics Board, Bureau of Patents Trademarks and Technology Transfer, National Electrification Administration, Energy Regulatory Board, National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Agrarian Reform under Republic Act 6657, Government Service Insurance System, Employees Compensation Commission, Agricultural Inventions Board, Insurance Commission, Philippine Atomic Energy Commission, Board of Investments and Construction Industry Arbitration Commission.” (Emphasis ours.)

[24] Regalado, supra, see note 17, p. 6.

[25] 619 SCRA 324 (2000).

[26] Previously Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 1-95.

[27] Rollo, p. 29.

[28] 336 SCRA 113 (2000).

[29] G.R. No. 138556, May 9, 2001.

[30] Supra.

[31] Supra, see note 17.

[32] Supra.

[33] See Hervas vs. Court of Appeals, 319 SCRA 776 (1999).

[34] Section 3 (d), Rule 3:

“d.  When a petition does not have the complete annexes or the required number of copies, the Chief of the Judicial Records Division shall require the petitioner to complete the annexes or file the necessary number of copies of the petition before docketing the case.  Pleadings improperly filed in courts shall be returned to the sender by the Chief of the Judicial Records Division.”



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