FIRST DIVISION

ROMULO R. PERALTA,

                                              Petitioner,

G.R. No. 187978
 

– versus –

HON. RAUL E. DE LEON, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Parañaque, Branch 258, HON. ARBITER DUNSTAN SAN VICENTE, in his capacity as Housing and Land Use Regulatory Arbiter and LUCAS ELOSO EJE, in his capacity as Sheriff, Regional Trial Court, Parañaque City and CONCEPTS AND SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT INC., as represented by its CHAIRMAN KASUO NORO,

                                 Respondents.

 

Present:

CORONA, C. J.,

     Chairperson,

VELASCO, JR.,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

PERALTA,* and

PEREZ, JJ.

Promulgated:

November 24, 2010

x  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – x

 

 

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

 

          This is a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision[1][1] of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. SP No. 98922 dated 29 May 2008 denying the Petition filed by petitioner Romulo R. Peralta, which sought to set aside the Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 258, Parañaque City in Civil Case No. 07-0141, dismissing the Complaint filed by petitioner against respondent Concepts and System Development Inc. (CSDI) on the ground of lack of jurisdiction and forum shopping.  Likewise assailed is the Resolution[2][2] of the Court of Appeals dated 11 May 2009 denying Petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.  

 

          The facts are:

Respondent CSDI is the developer and owner of the condominium project called the Elysium in a three and a half (3½) hectare lot in Parañaque City inside B.F. Homes Subdivision.  Each phase of development was issued a respective Certificate of Registration and “License to Sell.”  On 22 April 1997, petitioner and CSDI entered into a Contract to Sell involving a condominium unit at Phase II of “The Elysium Project,” specifically Unit 10, Block 3 (subject property), in a Deferred Cash Payment Scheme, and under the authority of its “License to Sell,” for P5 Million Pesos. 

Petitioner and CSDI agreed on the following scheme of payment:[3][3]

NAME OF BUYER:                MR. ROMULO R. PERALTA

DISCRIPTION OF UNIT:      BLOCK 03/UNIT 10 ALPHA

                                                THE ELYSIUM PH. II

PURCHASE PRICE:               P5,000,000.00

50% DOWNPAYMENT:        P2,500,000.00  April 22, 1997

50% BALANCE:                     P1,250,000.00  October 23, 1997

                                                P1,250,000.00  April 23, 1998

The subject property was completed in 1996 and issued a Condominium Certificate of Title No. 6132 on 9 October 1996.  On its due date, petitioner failed to pay in full in accordance with the Contract to Sell despite the delivery, acceptance, and his possession and enjoyment of the condominium unit in November 1997.

On 16 September 1999, CSDI filed a complaint for collection of sum of money/specific performance against petitioner with the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) which was docketed as HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646 (HLURB Case No. REM-AO991214-0275).

Meanwhile, on 5 May 2000, the petitioner together with the other unit owners filed a case against CSDI before the HLURB for Cancellation of Certificate of Registration, License to Sell, Declaration of Nullity of HLURB Case No. REM-051500-10995, Cancellation of Title, Specific Performance and Damages, entitled Ferdinand V. Aragon, et al. v. CSDI, et al., docketed as HLURB Case No. REM-051500-10995.

On 14 October 2000, respondent HLURB Arbiter Dunstan San Vicente (HLURB Arbiter San Vicente) rendered a decision in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646, filed by CSDI against petitioner, requiring the latter to pay Three Million Twenty-Two Thousand Pesos (P3,022,000.00) plus interest with the alternative remedy of rescission of contract to sell plus forfeiture of payments.  The HLURB held:

WHEREFORE, a judgment (sic) is hereby rendered:

1.       Ordering respondent to pay complainant the amount of THREE MILLION TWENTY-TWO THOUSAND PESOS (P3,022,000.00) plus 3% interest per month from June 2000 until the full amount is paid and satisfied.

2.      Ordering respondent to pay complainant liquidated damages equivalent to ½ of all sums paid upon the purchase price.

3.      Ordering respondent to pay complainant attorney’s  fees in the amount of P20,000.00; and

4.      Ordering respondent to pay complainant the cost of suit.

In the event that respondent would fail or refuse, or continue to fail or refuse, to pay his monetary obligations, the subject Contract to Sell is hereby rescinded/cancelled and the total amount paid by respondent be forfeited in favor of the complainant.  In that same event, the respondent is hereby ordered to turn-over and cede peacefully the possession of or vacate the Condominium unit, Block 3, Unit 10, Phase II of the Elysium Community Condominium, to the complainant.

All compulsory counterclaims of respondent are hereby denied.[4][4]

Petitioner filed an appeal to the Office of the President which was docketed as O.P. Case No. 02-C-072.  The appeal was dismissed by the Office of the President.  Petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied with finality by the same office in an Order dated 4 May 2005.[5][5]

Meanwhile, on 29 October 2002, respondent HLURB Arbiter San Vicente rendered a decision against CSDI in the complaint docketed as HLURB Case No. REM-051500-10995 for Cancellation of Certificate of Registration, License to Sell, Declaration of Nullity of REM-051500-10995, Cancellation of Title, Specific Performance and Damages.[6][6]  The dispositive portion of the HLURB decision states:

WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered as follows:

1.  Ordering respondent Concepts and Systems Development, Inc. to accelerate the completion or full development of The Elysium Condominium project, consisting of its Phase I, II, and III; and to continue maintaining properly the common areas embraced in the whole condominium project, save those that the ECC Corporation have begun to manage or deliver services for the benefit of its members.

2.  Return to the Elysium Community Condominium Corporation the percentage or fraction of the aggregate assessment fees it cumulatively collected from the unit buyers and credited to the cost of its maintenance of the Elysium project reckoned from organization of the ECC Corporation on 25 October 1990 up to 20 July 2000;

3. Turn-over to the ECC Corporation the accumulated membership fees paid by all corporation members starting from the ECC Corporation’s date of organization in October 25, 1990 up to July 20, 2000, the date that management of the corporation was relinquished  to the members;

4.  Cease and desist from collecting maintenance fees from the unit owners, except when the same is demanded by the ECC Corporation in furtherance of its management of the project after the turn-over of the common areas thereto;

5.  Pay the ECC Corporation the cost of this suit and the reasonable amount of P50,000.00 as damages by way of developmental charges for its alteration of the project without the consent of the majority of registered owners of the project, or its unit owners;

6.  Pay and settle (its) loan obligations, or redeem the encumbrance of titles, to RCBC and the Land Bank of the Philippines in consonance with the mortgage clearance issued by this Office;

7.  The complaint against the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, the Land Bank of the Philippines, and the Register of Deeds of Parañaque City and Las Piñas City are hereby dismissed.

All other claims and counter-claims are denied for lack of merit. [7][7]

On 12 December 2005, pursuant to the decision dated 14 October 2000 in HLURB Case No. REM 091699-10646, a Writ of Execution was issued by HLURB Regional Director Jesse A. Obligacion resulting in the garnishment of petitioner’s cash deposit with Bank of the Philippine Islands.[8][8]

Petitioner filed repeated motions to quash the Writ of Execution citing the 29 October 2002 decision of the HLURB in Case No. REM-051500-10995.  Unmoved, HLURB Arbiter San Vicente issued on 30 April 2007 an Order to break open and to force the ejectment of petitioner from said condominium unit in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646.

HLURB Arbiter San Vicente stood firm in his position that the decision of the HLURB in HLURB Case No. REM-051500-10995 cannot stay the execution of the decision in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646.

The HLURB held:

In this case, the subject matter was the unpaid condominium unit purchased by respondent and the uncollected sums of amortizations in favor of complainant.  Neither are the causes of action in both cases identical. In the former case, the cause of action involves non-development of the entire project, non-redemption of the encumbered title/s that embrace the whole project, failure to turn over the project to ECCC.  In the instant case, the cause of action involved is the unjust failure of respondent to pay the price of the condominium unit he bought.  The alleged same pieces of evidence adduced in both actions would not sustain the causes of action raised in each of them.

To the extent that our disposition on the facts and issues embodied in this case is now final and executory, our ruling based thereon is now the law herein.  Our decision is already conclusive as to the matters actually and directly controverted or determined in this case.  The enforcement of the decision cannot be varied nor may it be barred by conclusions drawn from another case regardless of how both may possibly relate to each case.  Even respondent’s allusion to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the ‘Oropeza Marketing Corporation v. Allied Banking Corporation’ will not save his day.

As we have stressed, the subject matters in this case and in the Ferdinand Aragon case are not identical.  In that case, the subject involved is the whole condominium project and its development, turn-over of condominium facilities as well as encumbrance of the titles of the project.  In this case, the subject matter is the unpaid condominium unit purchased by respondent and the uncollected sums of amortizations in favor of complainant.

WHEREFORE, the respondent’s motion to quash the Writ of Execution dated December 12, 2005 is hereby DENIED.

In view of the plain and manifest refusal of respondent to obey the judgment and writ which ordered him to pay his accumulated installments in this case, let the alternative remedy of cancellation of the contract of the parties as well as forfeiture of the payments of respondent take effect immediately.  Consequently, the Office of the Ex-Officio Sheriff is hereby directed to compel respondent Peralta to turn-over and cede peacefully his possession of the condominium unit, Block 3, Unit 10, Phase II of the Elysium Community Condominium, to the complainant; and, should respondent continue to defy or disobey this Order, to break open and enter the premises of the said condominium unit, inventory and take possession of the personal belongings of respondent in the premises of his unit and deliver or turn-over them to the respondent; or in case of his refusal, to entrust or deposit  the same in a secure and enclosed area within the compound of the condominium project, and finally to place complainant in peaceful possession of the unit.[9][9]  

On 7 May 2007, petitioner filed a Complaint for Injunction and Damages before the RTC Branch 258 of Parañaque City docketed as Civil Case No. 07-0141 entitled Romulo R. Peralta v. Concepts and Systems Development Inc.[10][10]

The RTC Branch 258 dismissed the complaint in Civil Case No. 07-0141 on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and forum shopping through its Order dated 11 May 2007. 

Petitioner sought recourse before the Court of Appeals via a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.  On 29 May 2008, the Court of Appeals rendered the assailed Decision, which affirmed the RTC’s Order dismissing the case for injunction and damages in Civil Case  No. 07-0141 on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and forum shopping.

The Court of Appeals explained:

The fact that the petition or complaint before the public respondent prays also for damages suffered by the petitioner in the implementation of the writ of execution has no controlling significance.  The bottom line is that it was connected with, or arose out of, the implementation of the writ of execution issued by the HLURB.  Under Presidential Decree Nos. 957 and 1344, the Regional Trial Court cannot encroach into the domain of said quasi-judicial agency.

The petitioner cited the case of Suntay v. Gocolay, [G.R. No. 144892, September 23, 2005] but it is clearly not applicable.  In said case, the issue was jurisdiction over issues regarding title or ownership of a condominium unit.  Supreme Court held that the HLURB has no jurisdiction to rule on such issues.

As to forum shopping, the non-disclosure of other cases in the courts of law or quasi judicial agency is a ground for dismissal.  Section 5 of Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure specifies that:

SEC. 5.  Certification against forum shopping. – The plaintiff or principal party shall certify under oath in the complaint or other initiatory pleading asserting a claim for relief, or in a sworn certification annexed thereto and simultaneously filed therewith: (a) that he has not theretofore commenced any action or filed any claim involving the same issues in any court, tribunal or quasi-judicial agency and, to the best of his knowledge, no such other action or claim is pending therein; (b) if there is such  other pending action or claim, a complete statement of the present status thereof; and (c) if he should thereafter learn that the same or similar action or claim has been filed or is pending, he shall report that fact within five (5) days therefrom to the court wherein his aforesaid complaint or initiatory pleading has been filed.

For failure to disclose the cases cited by the public respondent in the subject order, the petitioner risked his case being, as it was, dismissed.  In the case of Sadang v. Court of Appeals [G.R. No. 140138, October 11, 2006], the Supreme Court  ruled that there was a violation of the rule on forum shopping by the non-disclosure of the filing with an administrative agency, the HLURB, of a complaint raising the same issues as those brought before the Regional Trial Court.[11][11]

In the end, the Court of Appeals decreed:

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.[12][12]

Assiduous, petitioner is now before this Court via the present recourse raising the single issue of whether or not the Court of Appeals is correct in affirming the lack of jurisdiction of the RTC to enjoin the implementation of the HLURB decision that was allegedly rendered contrary to Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1344.[13][13]

We affirm the Court of Appeals.

Generally, the extent to which an administrative agency may exercise its powers depends largely, if not wholly, on the provisions of the statute creating or empowering such agency.  Presidential Decree No. 1344, “Empowering the National Housing Authority to Issue Writ of Execution in the Enforcement of its Decision under Presidential Decree No. 957,” clarifies and spells out the quasi-judicial dimensions of the grant of jurisdiction to the HLURB in the following specific terms:

Sec 1.  In the exercise of its functions to regulate real estate trade and business and in addition to its powers provided for in Presidential Decree No. 957, the National Housing Authority shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide cases of the following nature.

A.                Unsound real estate business practices;

B.                 Claims involving refund and any other claims filed by subdivision lot or condominium unit buyer against the project owner, developer, dealer, broker or salesman; and

C.                 Cases involving specific performance of contractual and statutory obligations filed by buyers of subdivision lots or condominium units against the owner, developer, broker or salesman.[14][14]

It is noteworthy that the HLURB in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646, rendered a decision against petitioner ordering him to pay CSDI the unpaid amount due from his purchase of a condominium unit or in the alternative, the rescission of contract with forfeiture of payments made by petitioner.  A writ of execution was issued against petitioner and his appeal was dismissed by the Office of the President.  Petitioner no longer assailed this dismissal, thus the same became final and executory.   Unable to obtain relief before the Office of the President, petitioner filed Civil Case No. 07-0141 before the RTC of Parañaque City.  As adverted to earlier, the RTC concluded that the jurisdiction over petitioner’s complaint falls on the HLURB.  This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. 

It is a settled rule that the jurisdiction of the HLURB to hear and decide cases is determined by the nature of the cause of action, the subject matter or property involved and the parties.[15][15]

In Civil Case No. 07-0141, petitioner prayed for the issuance of temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to restrain respondent CSDI from cancelling the Contract to Sell, forfeiting the amortization payment, foreclosing petitioner’s condominium units, and garnishing his bank deposits.  Specifically, petitioner asked that the RTC, Branch 258:

1. Immediately upon receipt of this petition, a temporary restraining Order be issued and/or a Preliminary Injunction, pending the determination of the merits of the case, by way of restraining defendants from forfeiting the amortization payments, foreclosure of plaintiff’s condominium unit, its break opening, and garnishment of plaintiff’s bank deposits at Bank of Philippine Islands, Forbes Park branch, Makati City.

2.  To order the final and permanent injunction.

3. And to order defendant-developer to pay plaintiff the actual damages of his hospitalization amounting to Php 60,000.00 including the interest until fully paid, caused by the unlawful and damaging acts of defendants as above shown;

4. To order defendant developer to pay P300,000.00 as moral damages to plaintiff;

5. Another payment of P300,000.00 as exemplary damages to plaintiff;

6.   To pay Attorneys fees of P50,000.00 and costs of suit;

7.  Ordering defendants to adhere to the License to Sell and all its strict compliance thereto imposed on defendant developer.[16][16]

We have to agree with the trial court and the Court of Appeals that jurisdiction over the complaint filed by the petitioner is with the HLURB.

Maria Luisa Park Association, Inc. v. Almendras,[17][17] finds application in this case.  The Court ruled:

The provisions of P.D. No. 957 were intended to encompass all questions regarding subdivisions and condominiums. The intention was aimed at providing for an appropriate government agency, the HLURB, to which all parties aggrieved in the implementation of provisions and the enforcement of contractual rights with respect to said category of real estate may take recourse. The business of developing subdivisions and corporations being imbued with public interest and welfare, any question arising from the exercise of that prerogative should be brought to the HLURB which has the technical know-how on the matter. In the exercise of its powers, the HLURB must commonly interpret and apply contracts and determine the rights of private parties under such contracts. This ancillary power is no longer a uniquely judicial function, exercisable only by the regular courts.[18][18]

This Court was equally explicit in Chua v. Ang,[19][19] when it pronounced that: 

x x x The law recognized, too, that subdivision and condominium development involves public interest and welfare and should be brought to a body, like the HLURB, that has technical expertise.  In the exercise of its powers, the HLURB, on the other hand, is empowered to interpret and apply contracts, and determine the rights of private parties under these contracts.  This ancillary power, generally judicial, is now no longer with the regular courts to the extent that the pertinent HLURB laws provide.

            Viewed from this perspective, the HLURB’s jurisdiction over contractual rights and obligations of parties under subdivision and condominium contracts comes out very clearly.[20][20]

We are in accord with the RTC when it held:

First: On the matter of lack of jurisdiction of this Court over this case – This Court is fully aware of the cited decisions of respondents particularly those which pertain to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) as provided for under pertinent laws to the exclusion of the regular courts and this is one of them.  It cannot be gainsaid that while [plaintiff] harps on Arts. 20 and 21 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines to be the basis of his cause of action for damages before this Court, the issue of his claiming damages against respondent Concepts & Systems Dev’t. Inc. (CSDI), has already been resolved in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646 in favor of CSDI and against him to which a Writ of Execution has been issued, partially implemented by co-respondent Sheriff Lucas Eloso Eje and to which [plaintiff] is asking this Court to issue a temporary restraining order in order to suspend the full implementation of said writ.  While [plaintiff] claims that his cause of action is one of damages, the truth is his main objective is to have this Court enjoin the enforcement of the writ of execution issued by the HLURB.  Such subterfuge is easily discernible in view of the amount of damages [plaintiff] is only claiming in this case against that which respondent CSDI is entitled to if the writ of execution is fully satisfied.  This cannot be done for it is tantamount to undue interference with the decision of a quasi-judicial body which, as above-stated, is vested by law and jurisprudence with exclusive authority to hear and decide cases between sellers and buyers of subdivision lots and condominium units, among others.

The Court, therefore, hereby adopts by reference the arguments of respondent CSDI relative to this Court’s lack of jurisdiction to hear and decide this case which need no longer be repeated herein as it will not serve any useful purpose.[21][21]

As observed in C.T. Torres Enterprises, Inc. v. Hibionada:[22][22]

The argument that only courts of justice can adjudicate claims resoluble under the provisions of the Civil Code is out of step with the fast-changing times. There are hundreds of administrative bodies now performing this function by virtue of a valid authorization from the legislature. This quasi-judicial function, as it is called, is exercised by them as an incident of the principal power entrusted to them of regulating certain activities falling under their particular expertise.

 

Finally, it must be emphasized that the decision of the HLURB in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646, has already become final and executory due to the failure of the petitioner to elevate the dismissal of his appeal by the Office of the President to the Court of Appeals.  It is axiomatic that final and executory judgments can no longer be attacked by any of the parties or be modified, directly or indirectly, even by the highest court of the land.[23][23]

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit and the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 29 May 2008 in CA G.R. SP No. 98922 as well as its Resolution dated 11 May 2009 are AFFIRMED.  Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

 

                                                                                     JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

                                                                                          Associate Justice

             WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

Chairperson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                                                        RENATO C. CORONA

    Chief Justice


 


*              Per Special Order No. 913, Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta is designated as additional member in place of Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo who is on official leave.

[1][1]           Penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza (now a member of this Court) with Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Arturo G. Tayag, concurring.  Rollo, pp. 31-46.

[2][2]           Id. at 48-49.

[3][3]           Records, Vol. I, p. 22.

[4][4]           Id. at 258-259.       

[5][5]           The Order of the Office of the President reads: 

This refers to the motion of Romulo R. Peralta for reconsideration of the Order of this Office dated February 10, 2005 declaring our earlier Order of July 20, 2004 as final and executory and remanding the records of the case to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board for its appropriate disposition.

                                In this recourse, movant vehemently denied receiving a copy of the July 20, 2004 Order.

                                We deny reconsideration.

                                The registry return receipt on file with the records of this Office clearly shows that movant, through his counsel of record, received the July 20, 2004 Order on July 29, 2004.  This single proof of evidence is enough to repudiate the aforesaid claim of movant.  The excuse offered by movant’s counsel as reason for the non-receipt of the said Order is, to our mind the most hackneyed and habitual subterfuge employed by litigants and their counsels to prevent decisions from attaining finality.  It has been oft-repeated that lawyers are required to be more circumspect with the cases they handle.  As such, they are expected to devise an efficient receiving and filing system in their office so that no disorderliness can affect the smooth flow of the cases, particularly the receipt of notices of decision from courts and administrative tribunals.  Obviously, the records of movant’s counsel are in complete disarray that he cannot find a single copy of the Order duly delivered to him by the Postal Office on July 29, 2004.  This neglect or omission on the part of movant’s counsel will not stay the finality of the Order of this Office.

                                WHEREFORE, the motion for reconsideration is hereby DENIED with finality.

                                SO ORDERED.

                                Manila, Philippines, 4 May 2005. (Id. at 226-227). 

[6][6]           Id. at 25.

[7][7]           Id. at 44-45.

[8][8]           Id. at 107-111.

[9][9]           Records, Vol. II, pp. 412-413.             

[10][10]         Records, Vol. I, pp. 1-11.

[11][11]         Rollo, pp. 44-45.

[12][12]         Id. at 46.

[13][13]         Id. at 98.

[14][14]         Osea v. Ambrocio, G.R. 162774, 7 April 2006, 486 SCRA 599, 605-606.

[15][15]         De los Santos v. Sarmiento, G.R. No. 154877, 27 March 2007, 519 SCRA 62, 73.

[16][16]         Records, Vol. I, pp. 10-11.

[17][17]         G.R. No. 171763, 5 June 2009, 588 SCRA 663.

[18][18]         Id. at 672-673 citing Antipolo Realty Corp. v. National Housing Authority, 237 Phil. 389, 397-398 (1987).

[19][19]         G.R. No. 156164, 4 September 2009, 598 SCRA 229.

[20][20]         Id. at 242.

[21][21]         Id. at 345-347.

[22][22]         G.R. No. 80916, 9 November 1990, 191 SCRA 268, 272.

[23][23]         Peña v. Government Service Insurance System, G.R. No. 159520, 19 September 2006, 502 SCRA 383, 396-397 citing Teodoro v. Court of Appeals, 437 Phil. 336, 346 (2002).