Sunday, January 31, 2010

SC round-up Jan 22-25 2010

The site is down this morning, so we turned to the servers, which fortunately are updated on Supreme Court decisions.

The Supreme Court paves the way for the construction of a 85-story Skycity condominium building in Ortigas Ave., cor, EDSA Greenhills, San Juan as it overrules the objections of Greenhills East Association, Inc. The Court says,

The Court cannot find fault in HLURB’s assertion that the real test of whether a land use serves the need of a district is not in the size or height of the buildings but in the sufficiency or surplus of the business or human activities in a given district to which they cater. Land use is affected by the intensity of such activities. Extraordinary population density or overcrowding, brought about by competition for space in the scarce area of the district, is to be avoided. Using this test, the HLURB, which is the clearing house for efficient land use, found no clear showing that respondent EGI’s project if finished would cause havoc in the population level of the land district where the project lies.

What is more, the houses of petitioner GEA’s members are separated by fence and guarded gates from the adjacent areas outside their subdivision. Their exclusiveness amply protects their yen for greater space than the rest of the people of the metropolis outside their enclave can hope for. Respondent EGI’s project offers no threat to the subdivision’s privacy.1avvphil It is on the other side of the fence, wholly unconnected to the workings within the subdivision. The new building would be in the stream of human traffic that passes EDSA and Ortigas Avenue. Consequently, it would largely attract people whose primary activities connect to those wide avenues. It would seem unreasonable for petitioner GEA to dictate on property owners outside their gates how they should use their lands if such use is not in contravention of law.

In another housing law matter, the Court rules that the office of the public prosecutor and the trial court have jurisdiction over criminal actions for violation of P.D. 957; and declares that HLURB’s subsequent issuance to a developer of a license to sell did not extinguish his criminal liability for selling subdivision lots prior to the issuance of such license.

In an ejectment case, the Court agrees with the Court of Appeals on the issue of recalling a writ of possession after the PNB, who applied for it, failed to renew its leasehold right over the subject property, a two hectare lot in Binondo Manila.

The Court also restores the tenants of a farm in Urdaneta Pangasinan after the tenants signed away their tenancy rights for Php 3,000. The Court says,

"...tenancy relations cannot be bargained away except for the strong reasons provided by law which must be convincingly shown by evidence in line with the State's policy of achieving a dignified existence for the small farmers free from pernicious institutional restraints and practices."

In criminal law, the Court applies the chain of custody rule in acquitting a drug suspect.

In taxation, the Courtdeclares that credit cooperatives are not liable for withholding taxes on interest from the savings and time deposits of its members and rules in favor of the Municiplaity of Pagbilao and the Province of Quezon over NAPOCOR's claims of exemption from real property taxes for the reason, among others, that NAPOCOR failed to pay under protest before lodging an appeal with the Local Board of Assessment Appeals.

In political law, the Supreme Court, through Justice Antonio Carpio shoots down the law creating a new legislative district of the City of Malolos. Justice Roberto Abad dissents.

On the side issue of legal ethics, the Court looks with disfavor on the lawyer who managed to delay the proceedings for the take over of his foreclosed home by GSIS and asks the Integrated bar of the Philippines to initiate disciplinary action on him.

Lastly, the Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Appeals that the principal is not bound by the real estate mortgage executed by the authorized agent in her own name without indicating the principal, but nonetheless, reverses the Court of Appeals on the ground that the principal slept on his rights. Said the Supreme Court,

Notwithstanding the nullity of the real estate mortgage executed by Tabing and her husband, we find that the equity principle of laches is applicable in the instant case. Laches is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it. Its essential elements are: (1) conduct on the part of the defendant, or of one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation complained of; (2) delay in asserting complainant’s right after he had knowledge of the defendant’s conduct and after he has an opportunity to sue; (3) lack of knowledge or notice on the part of the defendant that the complainant would assert the right on which he bases his suit; and (4) injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant.

There is no absolute rule on what constitutes laches. It is a creation of equity and applied not really to penalize neglect or sleeping upon one’s rights but rather to avoid recognizing a right when to do so would result in a clearly inequitable situation. The question of laches, we said, is addressed to the sound discretion of the court and each case must be decided according to its particular circumstances. Verily, in a number of cases, it had been held that laches, the essence of which is the neglect to assert a right over a long period of time, may prevent recovery of a titled property.

In the present case, records clearly show that respondents could have filed an action to annul the mortgage on their properties, but for unexplained reasons, they failed to do so. They only questioned the loan and mortgage transactions in December 1996, or after the lapse of more than five (5) years from the date of the foreclosure sale. It bears noting that the real estate mortgage was registered and annotated on the titles of respondents, and the latter were even informed of the extrajudicial foreclosure and the scheduled auction. Instead of impugning the real estate mortgage and opposing the scheduled public auction, respondents’ lawyer wrote a letter to petitioner and merely asked that the scheduled auction be postponed to a later date. Even after five (5) years, respondents still failed to oppose the foreclosure and the subsequent transfer of titles to petitioner when their agent, Tabing, acting in behalf of Cayetano, sent a letter proposing to buy back the properties. It was only when the negotiations failed that respondents filed the instant case. Clearly, respondents slept on their rights.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Supreme Court harvest of January 21, 2010

Fourteen decisions highlight the Supreme Court's day on January 21, 2010 with rulings on various topics.

On taxation, the Supreme Court discusses the effects of the BIR'sVoluntary Assessment Program and the Commissioner's futile attempt to avoid it in a case against a taxpayer who failed to file income tax returns. The Court also ruled that a taxpayer failed to file an appeal on time with Court of Tax Appeals and resolved the issue of the tax liabilities of pawnshops for VAT and Documentary Stamps Tax on pawn tickets

On immigration, the Court rules on
the deportation of an undocumented Korean.

In criminal law, the Court declares that an affidavit of desistance failed to obtain the intended results in this case for frustrated murder, while it affirms conviction of a man who raped his stepdaughter . In another rape case, the Court denies the appeal of a rapist who employed the "sweetheart defense".

The Supreme Court outlines the circumstances that will merit execution pending appeal, and considers piercing the veil of corporate fiction in resolving a case regarding the lease of a property in Tagaytay for 90 years.

In civil law, the Court upholds the extinction of the easement of right of way upon consolidation in one person of the ownership of the dominant and the servient estates. while discussing the Parole Evidence rule on the same case.

A slew of technical errors in a summary judgment case forces the Supreme Court to recite the classic mantras on technicalities.

In the field of labor law, the Court grants the claims for total disability of a sea farer who suffered a stroke, but was certified by the company physician as fit to work more than five months after. The Court also sides with labor on the issue of constructive dismissal by an employee who tendered a resignation letter.

Most interesting is how the Supreme Court berates ABS-CBN in a labor case in a manner that will not be written in the news,

The termination of employment of the four drivers occurred under highly questionable circumstances and with plain and unadulterated bad faith.

The records show that the regularization case was in fact the root of the resulting bad faith as this case gave rise and led to the dismissal case. First, the regularization case was filed leading to the labor arbiter’s decision declaring the petitioners, including Fulache, Jabonero, Castillo and Lagunzad, to be regular employees. ABS-CBN appealed the decision and maintained its position that the petitioners were independent contractors.

In the course of this appeal, ABS-CBN took matters into its own hands and terminated the petitioners’ services, clearly disregarding its own appeal then pending with the NLRC. Notably, this appeal posited that the petitioners were not employees (whose services therefore could be terminated through dismissal under the Labor Code); they were independent contractors whose services could be terminated at will, subject only to the terms of their contracts. To justify the termination of service, the company cited redundancy as its authorized cause but offered no justificatory supporting evidence. It merely claimed that it was contracting out the petitioners’ activities in the exercise of its management prerogative.

ABS-CBN’s intent, of course, based on the records, was to transfer the petitioners and their activities to a service contractor without paying any attention to the requirements of our labor laws; hence, ABS-CBN dismissed the petitioners when they refused to sign up with the service contractor. In this manner, ABS-CBN fell into a downward spiral of irreconcilable legal positions, all undertaken in the hope of saving itself from the decision declaring its “talents” to be regular employees.

By doing all these, ABS-CBN forgot labor law and its realities.

It forgot that by claiming redundancy as authorized cause for dismissal, it impliedly admitted that the petitioners were regular employees whose services, by law, can only be terminated for the just and authorized causes defined under the Labor Code.

Likewise ABS-CBN forgot that it had an existing CBA with a union, which agreement must be respected in any move affecting the security of tenure of affected employees; otherwise, it ran the risk of committing unfair labor practice – both a criminal and an administrative offense. It similarly forgot that an exercise of management prerogative can be valid only if it is undertaken in good faith and with no intent to defeat or circumvent the rights of its employees under the laws or under valid agreements.

Lastly, it forgot that there was a standing labor arbiter’s decision that, while not yet final because of its own pending appeal, cannot simply be disregarded. By implementing the dismissal action at the time the labor arbiter’s ruling was under review, the company unilaterally negated the effects of the labor arbiter’s ruling while at the same time appealling the same ruling to the NLRC. This unilateral move is a direct affront to the NLRC’s authority and an abuse of the appeal process.

All these go to show that ABS-CBN acted with patent bad faith. A close parallel we can draw to characterize this bad faith is the prohibition against forum-shopping under the Rules of Court. In forum-shopping, the Rules characterize as bad faith the act of filing similar and repetitive actions for the same cause with the intent of somehow finding a favorable ruling in one of the actions filed. ABS-CBN’s actions in the two cases, as described above, are of the same character, since its obvious intent was to defeat and render useless, in a roundabout way and other than through the appeal it had taken, the labor arbiter’s decision in the regularization case. Forum-shopping is penalized by the dismissal of the actions involved. The penalty against ABS-CBN for its bad faith in the present case should be no less.

The errors and omissions do not belong to ABS-CBN alone. The labor arbiter himself who handled both cases did not see the totality of the company’s actions for what they were. He appeared to have blindly allowed what he granted the petitioners with his left hand, to be taken away with his right hand, unmindful that the company already exhibited a badge of bad faith in seeking to terminate the services of the petitioners whose regular status had just been recognized. He should have recognized the bad faith from the timing alone of ABS-CBN’s conscious and purposeful moves to secure the ultimate aim of avoiding the regularization of its so-called “talents.”

The NLRC, for its part, initially recognized the presence of bad faith when it originally ruled that:

While notice has been made to the employees whose positions were declared redundant, the element of good faith in abolishing the positions of the complainants appear to be wanting. In fact, it remains undisputed that herein complainants were terminated when they refused to sign an employment contract with Able Services which would make them appear as employees of the agency and not of ABS-CBN. Such act by itself clearly demonstrates bad faith on the part of the respondent in carrying out the company’s redundancy program x x x.

On motion for reconsideration by both parties, the NLRC reiterated its “pronouncement that complainants were illegally terminated as extensively discussed in our Joint Decision dated December 15, 2004.” Yet, in an inexplicable turnaround, it reconsidered its joint decision and reinstated not only the labor arbiter’s decision of January 17, 2002 in the regularization case, but also his illegal dismissal decision of April 21, 2003. Thus, the NLRC joined the labor arbiter in his error that we cannot but characterize as grave abuse of discretion.

The Court cannot leave unchecked the labor tribunals’ patent grave abuse of discretion that resulted, without doubt, in a grave injustice to the petitioners who were claiming regular employment status and were unceremoniously deprived of their employment soon after their regular status was recognized. Unfortunately, the CA failed to detect the labor tribunals’ gross errors in the disposition of the dismissal issue. Thus, the CA itself joined the same errors the labor tribunals committed.

The injustice committed on the petitioners/drivers requires rectification. Their dismissal was not only unjust and in bad faith as the above discussions abundantly show. The bad faith in ABS-CBN’s move toward its illegitimate goal was not even hidden; it dismissed the petitioners – already recognized as regular employees – for refusing to sign up with its service contractor. Thus, from every perspective, the petitioners were illegally dismissed.

By law, illegally dismissed employees are entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to other benefits or their monetary equivalent from the time their compensation was withheld from them up to the time of their actual reinstatement. The four dismissed drivers deserve no less.

Moreover, they are also entitled to moral damages since their dismissal was attended by bad faith.For having been compelled to litigate and to incur expenses to protect their rights and interest, the petitioners are likewise entitled to attorney’s fees.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nuisance candidates on election day

One of the more relevant decisions by the Supreme Court issued in January this year is the case of the nuisance candidate who managed to hang on to the list of legitimate candidates until a month after election day. The winning margin is only 104 votes and the nuisance candidate managed to invalidate 5,401 votes. Tough luck for the legitimate candidate. The facts of the case are as follows:

In the May 14, 2007 elections, petitioner Martinez and private respondent Salimbangon were among the candidates for Representative in the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu Province. On March 29, 2007, Edilito C. Martinez, a resident of Barangay Tambongon, Daan-Bantayan, Cebu, filed his certificate of candidacy for the same position.

On April 3, 2007, Martinez filed a petition to declare Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate.However, the Commission on Elections Second Division issued its Resolution declaring Edilito C. Martinez a nuisance candidate only on June 12, 2007 or almost one (1) month after the elections.

On July 9, 2007, Salimbangon was proclaimed winner in the congressional elections for the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu on the basis of official results showing that he garnered sixty-seven thousand two hundred seventy-seven (67,277) votes as against Martinez who garnered sixty-seven thousand one hundred seventy-three (67,173) votes, or a difference of one hundred four (104) votes.

Martinez filed an Election Protest Ad Cautelam on July 18, 2007 and on July 26, 2007, the HRET granted his motion to convert the same into a Regular Protest of all one thousand one hundred twenty-nine (1,129) precincts of the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu.

The election protest is based on three hundred (300) ballots more or less with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative which the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) did not count for Martinez on the ground that there was another congressional candidate (Edilito C. Martinez) who had the same surname.

Salimbangon filed his Answer with Counter-Protest stating that the Minutes of Voting (MOV) inside the ballot boxes in all the protested precincts contain no recorded objections regarding straying of votes claimed by Martinez, and that it was very seldom, if at all, that there were ballots with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative.

In its Decision dated May 28, 2009, the HRET resolved each of the claims and objections respectively raised by protestant and protestee applying the rules for appreciation of ballots. The Tribunal recognized as most crucial the issue of whether or not ballots with only "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" written on the line for Representative should be counted in favor of Martinez. Thus, the election protest "will rise or fall on how the Tribunal [appreciates said] ballots."[6]

Ruling on the issue, the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal upheld Salimbangon and considered the ballots as stray in accordance with Sec. 211 (1) of the Omnibus Election Code which provides:

"Where only the first name of a candidate or only his surname is written, the vote for such candidate is valid, if there is no other candidate with the same first name or surname for the same office."

Since the name of Edilito C. Martinez was still included in the official list of candidates on election day (May 14, 2007), the HRET held that five thousand four hundred one (5,401) ballots with "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" only written on the line for Representative were properly denied on the ground that there was no way of determining the real intention of the voter. These ballots were included in the 7,544 ballots denied as votes for Martinez in 961 precincts.

What then is the legal effect of declaring a nuisance candidate as such in a final judgment after the elections? Should ballots containing only the similar surname of two (2) candidates be considered as stray votes or counted in favor of the bona fide candidate?

The purpose of an election protest is to ascertain whether the candidate proclaimed by the board of canvassers is the lawful choice of the people. What is sought is the correction of the canvass of votes, which was the basis of proclamation of the winning candidate. Election contests, therefore, involve the adjudication not only of private and pecuniary interests of rival candidates, but also of paramount public interest considering the need to dispel uncertainty over the real choice of the electorate.

In controversies pertaining to nuisance candidates as in the case at bar, the law contemplates the likelihood of confusion which the similarity of surnames of two (2) candidates may generate. A nuisance candidate is thus defined as one who, based on the attendant circumstances, has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed, his sole purpose being the reduction of the votes of a strong candidate, upon the expectation that ballots with only the surname of such candidate will be considered stray and not counted for either of them.

We therefore hold that ballots indicating only the similar surname of two (2) candidates for the same position may, in appropriate cases, be counted in favor of the bona fide candidate and not considered stray, even if the other candidate was declared a nuisance candidate by final judgment after the elections. Accordingly, the 5,401 votes for "MARTINEZ" or "C. MARTINEZ" should be credited to petitioner giving him a total of 72,056 votes as against 67,108 total votes of private respondent. Petitioner thus garnered more votes than private respondent with a winning margin of 4,948 votes.


In the original text of this case, the SC castigated the COMELEC for its inefficiency in failing to resolve the issue of the nuisance candidate before the election. Shouldn't there be a law penalizing nuisance candidates?


Speaker Nograles refuses to allow Martinez to take his congressional seat, even as there are only three days before Congress adjourns.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A case of malicious prosecution?

As a follow-up to the Supreme Court Round-up as of January 20, 2010, a discussion of one interesting case regarding recovery of damages for malicious prosecution would be in order.

In this case, the City of Olongapo charged a hotel owner with the (a) theft of electrical current punished under Presidential Decree (P.D.) 401; and (b) disengaging and tampering with his electric meter’s potential link, thereby resulting to a zero-zero power consumption in violation of City Ordinance 23, series of 1989, and P.D. 401.

After the preliminary investigation, the state prosecutor issued a resolution, dismissing the complaints for insufficiency of evidence. On appeal, however, the Acting Secretary of Justice modified the State Prosecutor’s resolution and directed the filing of the corresponding information for theft of electricity against petitioner Tiu. Subsequently, however, the Secretary of Justice reconsidered and ordered instead the withdrawal of any information that might in the meantime have been filed in court. When the matter was elevated to the Court of Appeals (CA) and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court, both courts affirmed the dismissal of the City’s complaints against the hotel owner.

Claiming that he suffered mental anguish, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock and social humiliation and that the hotel suffered loss of business goodwill, financial reverses, and injured reputation, the owner and the hotel both filed an action for damages against the City for having filed a malicious and unfounded charge of theft of electricity against them.

The Regional Trial Court dismissed the case, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

On appeal the Supreme Court said that in order to establish a case for malicious prosecution, the hotel and the hotel owner must prove the following elements: (1) that the respondent City had caused their prosecution; (2) that the criminal action ended in their acquittal; (3) that, in bringing the action, the City had no probable cause; and (4) that it was impelled by legal malice—an improper or a sinister motive. Both parties concede that the first two elements were present in this case. What needs to be determined is whether or not petitioners have proved the last two elements.

The respondent City did not concoct out of thin air the criminal charge for theft of electricity against petitioners. It filed the case based on the result of an investigation carried out at petitioner’s premises which indicated a tampering of the electric meter. Indeed, petitioners never claimed that the inspection of petitioner's premises was just a farce. The City did not merely conjure the charge with the intention of vexing petitioners. It acted within its right to bring up the result of that investigation to the authorities for evaluation and resolution.

Finally, no evidence was shown that there had been bad blood between respondent City and petitioners prior to the filing of the criminal charge, which circumstance if present could justify a malicious motive in filing the charge. Resort to judicial processes, by itself, is not an evidence of ill will which would automatically make the complainant liable for malicious prosecution. Otherwise, peaceful recourse to the courts will be greatly discouraged and the exercise of one’s right to litigate would become meaningless and empty.

Even if the Court were to concede that the City branded petitioners as thieves, asked the people not to patronize their business, and had been overly zealous in pursuing the criminal complaint that it filed, these are not the legal malice contemplated in suits for malicious prosecution as the determining factor is evil motive in bringing the action, not the acts exhibited by the complainant after the case had been filed.


Bad faith is the foundation for this kind of case for damages. Considering that the complainant is the City Government of Olongapo, which is a government instrumentality, it could easily rely on the presumption of regularity of its conduct in the filing of those cases of Theft of Electricity. Thus, in spite of having lost its criminal cases, the City has a strong defense against a counter-charge for malicious prosecution.

It would be interesting to note, however, if this case would prosper before the Ombudsman against the officials involved under Sec. 3 (e) R.A. 3019, which punishes officials for "...(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence..."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Supreme Court Round Up as of January 20, 2010

The Supreme Court decided three election cases early this January concerning the following matters:

1. The effect of deficiency in docket fees in a COMELEC appeal.

2. What happens to a nuisance candidate's votes after he is declared as nuisance beyond election day.

3, Requisites of execution pending appeal in local election protests.

The SC also ruled on the jurisdiction of the DARAB which hinges on tenancy relations.

The Court rendered some key passages in a ruling on forgery in a deed of sale of land, the effect of mis-joinder and non-joinder of parties, mistake of counsel, fraud in consummating a contract of sale and undervaluation of the sale of real property to defraud the BIR.

The court also made pronouncements on misreading terms of an extra-judicial settlement and that mandamus will not be issued to compel the production of a will.

The Court ruled on how the government bungled a drugs buy bust case and how it succeeded in another.

The Court fined two judges for delay, PHP 11,000 for one and PHP 20,000 for another and dismissed court personnel for tampering with evidence.

Court reiterated previous rulings on forum shopping and receivership and made pronouncements on liquidator's fees.

It also ordered the reduction of excessive penalty and other charges by a bank in a foreclosure proceeding.

On the Civil Service, the Court awarded damages to a Customs official for her superior's actions in preventing her from doing assigned tasks and for not allowing her to get official recognition. In another case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on the qualifications of a civil service employee.

The Court outlined the requisites for awarding damages in an action for malicious prosecution.

In Criminal Law, the Court affirmed doctrines on corpus delicti and extra-judicial confessions, and several points on rape here here, and here.

Noteworthy is this murder case with bizarre twists and turns.

Equally noteworthy is a ruling that almost ruled that an unauthenticated fax from abroad is sufficient to establish probable cause for Estafa. But, SC said that judges should be thorough in dismissing a case on the recommendation of the Secretary of Justice and remanded the case for proper determination of probable cause by the judge.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year to All

09 was such a drag. Here's to a better year ahead, 2010. I will be hanging around the twitter page more often this year. See you around.