439 Phil. 298

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 139611, October 04, 2002 ]

NOLI ALFONSO AND ERLINDA FUNDIALAN, PETITIONERS, VS. SPS. HENRY AND LIWANAG ANDRES, RESPONDENTS.

R E S O L U T I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

On appeal are two resolutions of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 7450-UDK. The first, dated March 17, 1999,[1] dismissed petitioners’ appeal for their failure to pay docket and other lawful fees, while the second, dated August 9, 1999,[2]  denied petitioners’ motion for reconsideration.

As gleaned from the records,

the following are the antecedent facts:

The original case involved a complaint for accion publiciana with a claim for damages, entitled “Sps. Henry Andres and Natividad Liwanag-Andres vs. Noli Alfonso and Erlinda Fundialan,” docketed as Civil Case No. 1182, filed with the Regional Trial Court of San Mateo, Rizal. It was decided against herein petitioners in favor of the spouses Andres, now the respondents herein.

On July 15, 1997, a copy of the decision[3] was served upon petitioners.

On July 17, 1997, petitioners filed a Notice of Appeal, without the assistance of counsel and without payment of the docket and other lawful fees.

On July 21, 1997, the RTC granted the notice of appeal.

On August 25, 1997, respondents herein, through counsel, filed a motion to dismiss petitioners’ appeal, citing Section 1(c), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

On October 9, 1997, the trial court dismissed the motion and directed petitioners to pay the proper fees to cure the technical defect, stating thus: 

The Motion to Dismiss Appeal dated August 25, 1997, filed by the plaintiffs, through counsel is hereby DENIED. 

Defendants are directed to pay the corresponding docket fees and other required fees, within five (5) days from receipt of this Order, considering that the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure which took effect on July 1, 1997, must at least in the meantime, be construed liberally. 

SO ORDERED.[4]

On the same date, petitioners paid the subject fees, as evidenced by official receipts[5] issued by the RTC of San Mateo to petitioner Erlinda Fundialan. The receipts, all dated October 9, 1997, showed payments for appeal and legal research fees in Civil Case No. 1182, in compliance with the trial court’s order of even date, the details of which are as follows:

                                                                                                           
PARTICULARS
O.R. No.
AMOUNT
 
-------------------
----------------
---------------
 
 Appeal fee
7403333
P 48.00
  
 Appeal fee
7402555
352.00
  
 Legal Research
1880282
20.00
  
  
---------------
 
 
TOTAL
P 420.00
  
  
=========
 

Respondents elevated the case to the Court of Appeals. Upon a review of the records, which included the proofs of payment of the docket and appeal fees, the appellate court nevertheless resolved to dismiss the appeal in this wise:

For failure of defendants-appellants to pay the required docket fees, as reported by the Judicial Records Division (JRD) on February 24, 1999, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED (Section 1 (c), Rule 50 in relation to Section 4, Rule 41, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure). 

SO ORDERED.[6]

On April 12, 1999, petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the foregoing resolution, which the Court of Appeals denied on August 9, 1999. Thus: 

THROUGH a motion for reconsideration, defendants-appellants claim having paid the docketing fees on October 9, 1997, beyond the period for perfecting an appeal. 

Any subsequent compliance with the formal requirements for filing an appeal as prescribed by the Rules will not per se warrant reconsideration of Our Resolution. 

ACCORDINGLY, the motion for reconsideration is DENIED for lack of merit. 

SO ORDERED.[7]

Hence, this petition.

Petitioners submit that the sole issue to be resolved is whether the Court of Appeals was correct in its strict construction of the provisions of Section 1(c), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, however, we find two main issues for our resolution: (1) whether or not the payment of docket and other lawful fees within the period for perfecting an appeal is mandatory; and (2) whether or not petitioners have shown sufficient reason for the relaxation of what otherwise should be a stringent application of the rule on the payment of appellate docket and other lawful fees.

As ground for the dismissal of the appeal, the appellate court cites Section 1 (c), Rule 50, in relation to Section 4, Rule 41, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 1 (c), Rule 50 provides: 

SECTION 1. Grounds for dismissal of appeal.- An appeal may be dismissed by the Court of Appeals, on its own motion or on that of the appellee, on the following grounds: 

x x x 

(c) Failure of the appellant to pay the docket and other lawful fees as provided in section 5 of Rule 40 and section 4 of Rule 41

x x x

Section 4, Rule 41 in turn provides:

SECTION 4. Appellate court docket and other lawful fees. - Within the period for taking an appeal, the appellant shall pay to the clerk of court which rendered the judgment or final order appealed from, the full amount of the appellate court docket and other lawful fees. Proof of payment of said fees shall be transmitted to the appellate court together with the original record or the record on appeal. (Underscoring supplied.)

Petitioners argue for liberal construction of the Rules,[8] stating that its “delay”[9] in the payment of the fees, was a “trivial technical oversight” which was nonetheless cured by the order of the court a quo directing it to make the payment.[10] By such payment of the docket and other lawful fees, the technical deficiency was cured.[11] Petitioners also cites Section 13, Rule 41 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure[12] and argues that in the case at bar, although the notice of appeal had been seasonably filed, there was the “unintentional and excusable non-payment” of the required fees.[13] In fact, albeit belatedly, petitioners did pay the required fees on the very day the trial court ordered its payment. According to petitioners, substantial justice should not be sacrificed over technicalities.[14] 

On the other hand, respondents aver that under the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, perfection of an appeal requires the payment of the docket and other lawful fees. Since the same were not seasonably paid, such failure to pay was a fatal defect which an order from the trial court cannot cure.[15]

At the outset, it should be stressed that failure to pay the appellate docket and lawful fees is a serious matter affecting the court’s jurisdiction. Time and again, we have consistently held that “the payment of docket fees within the prescribed period is mandatory for the perfection of an appeal. Without such payment, the appellate court does not acquire jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action and the decision sought to be appealed from becomes final and executory.”[16]

Appeal is not a right but a statutory privilege; thus, appeal must be made strictly in accordance with provisions set by law.[17] The requirement of the law under Section 4, Rule 41 is clear. The payment of appellate docket fee is not a mere technicality of law or procedure but an essential requirement for the perfection of an appeal.[18]

However, notwithstanding the mandatory nature of such requirement, this Court has also held that “the strict application of the jurisdictional nature of the above rule on payment of appellate docket fees may be mitigated under exceptional circumstances to better serve the interest of justice.”[19] Hence, we resolve the second issue. Has petitioners presented any sufficient or satisfactory reason for the relaxation of the rules?

We note that at the time petitioners filed said notice of appeal on July 17, 1997, the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure had then very recently taken effect on July 1, 1997.

In the case of Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority vs. Mangubat, 312 SCRA 463, 466-467 (1999),[20] where the notice of appeal was likewise filed only 14 days after the effectivity of the new rules, this Court has stated: 

We find the delay excusable. In the case of Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. vs. Ricafort the court held that failure to attach to the Answer a written explanation why alternative mode of service of pleading is availed of, thirty nine (39) days after the effectivity of the new rules, may be excused as the counsel may not have been fully aware of the new requirements. This Court further ordered that strictest compliance with the said mandatory requirement is to be enforced one month from the promulgation of the said decision on August 5, 1998. The intent of the Court is clear to afford litigants full opportunity to comply with the new rules and to temper enforcement of sanctions in view of the recency of the changes introduced by the new rules. x x x We also note that the Solicitor General observed the procedure for perfecting an appeal under the old rule wherein only the notice of appeal is filed with the trial court and the docket fees were later paid to the appellate court after notice from the latter court that payment of docket fees are due. x x x . (Underscoring supplied.)

Indeed, as averred by petitioners in the present case, at the time of the filing of the notice of appeal, the changes introduced by the 1997 Rules of Civil procedure were yet novel, and even judges and lawyers needed time to familiarize themselves with the rules’ intricacies. The trial court acknowledged this fact when it resolved to grant the appeal, and favorably considered a liberal application of the rules in the meantime.

Also material is the fact that petitioners were not assisted by counsel when they filed their notice of appeal. Indeed, it appears that on August 20, 1997,[21] petitioners’ former counsel made formal the withdrawal of appearance from this case. In the case of Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. vs. Ricafort, 293 SCRA 661 (1998), this Court even assumed that counsel therein may not have been fully aware yet of the new requirements, and deemed failure to observe them excusable. In this case, where petitioners themselves filed the notice of appeal, without assistance of counsel, there is more reason to relax the application of the new rules.

Respondents’ reliance on the case of Lazaro vs. Court of Appeals[22] is not well taken. In Lazaro, the case in the trial court was decided months after the new rules had already taken effect. The litigants had the assistance of counsel and payment of fees was made belatedly after six months from the expiration of the appeal period. This delay was not sufficiently explained. Thus, this Court saw no compelling reason therein to deviate from the strict application of the rules. Moreover, the case of Lazaro also admits that the rules may be relaxed in “exceptionally meritorious cases.”

We also note that petitioners were not informed by the trial court that the docket fees were already due at that time. This failure of the trial court might have stemmed from the recency of the rules. Hence, fairness bids us not to take this circumstance against petitioners.

While it is true, as pointed out by respondents, that the same docket fees were only paid on October 9, 1997, or more than two months after the period to appeal has lapsed, this matter was sufficiently explained by petitioners. The records bear out the fact that the notice of appeal was granted on July 21, 1997. It was only on August 25, 1997 that respondents’ motion to dismiss was filed. Hence, following the course of judicial proceedings, including setting the motion for hearing, filing of an opposition thereto, with a resetting of a hearing also thrown in, the said motion was only resolved on October 9, 1997. Petitioners demonstrated their willingness to pay the docket fees, as shown by their immediate compliance with the order of the trial court, on the very day the motion was resolved. Late payment of docket fees may be admitted when the party showed willingness to abide by the rules, by immediately paying the required fees.[23]

WHEREFORE, the assailed resolutions in CA-G.R. CV No. 7450-UDK are SET ASIDE. The appeal is hereby REINSTATED and the case REMANDED  to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

SO ORDERED. 

Bellosillo, Acting C.J., (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
Mendoza, J., on official leave.  
 


[1] Rollo, p. 15.

[2] Id. at 11. 

[3] Dated July, 8, 1997. See Rollo, p. 43. 

[4] Rollo, p. 4. 

[5] Id. at 14. 

[6] Id. at 15. 

[7] Id. at 11. 

[8] Citing Section 6, Rule 1 thereof which provides:

SECTION 6. Construction. – These rules shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.

[9] Rollo, p. 6. 

[10] Id. at 5. 

[11] Id. at 7. 

[12] SECTION 13. Dismissal of appeal. – Prior to the transmittal of the original record or the record on appeal to the appellate court, the trial court may motu propio or on motion to dismiss the appeal for having been taken out of time. 

[13] Rollo, p. 6. 

[14] Id. at 8. 

[15] Id. at 24. 

[16] Sps. Manalili vs. Sps. De Leon, G.R. No. 140858, November 27, 2001, p. 6. 

[17] Ibid. 

[18] Id. at 7. 

[19] Ayala Land, Inc. vs. Carpo, 345 SCRA 579, 584 (2000). 

[20] Citing Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. vs. Ricafort, 293 SCRA 661 (1998). 

[21] Rollo, p. 37. 

[22] 330 SCRA 208 (2000). 

[23] Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority vs. Mangubat, supra, citing Teofilo Gensoli and Co. vs. National Labor Relations Commission, 289 SCRA 407 (1998).



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