UP v. Dizon (G.R. No. 171182; August 23, 2012)

CASE DIGEST: UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES, JOSE V. ABUEVA, RAUL P. DE GUZMAN, RUBEN P. ASPIRAS, EMMANUEL P. BELLO, WILFREDO P. DAVID, CASIANO S. ABRIGO, and JOSEFINA R. LICUANAN, Petitioners, vs. HON. AGUSTIN S. DIZON, his capacity as Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 80, STERN BUILDERS, INC., and SERVILLANO DELA CRUZ, Respondents. (G.R. No. 171182; August 23, 2012)FACTS: University of the Philippines (UP) entered into a General Construction Agreement with respondent Stern Builders Corporation (Stern Builders) for the construction and renovation of the buildings in the campus of the UP in Los Bas. UP was able to pay its first and second billing. However, the third billing worth P273,729.47 was not paid due to its disallowance by the Commission on Audit (COA). Thus, Stern Builders sued the UP to collect the unpaid balance.
On November 28, 2001, the RTC rendered its decision ordering UP to pay Stern Builders. Then on January 16, 2002, the UP filed its motion for reconsideration. The RTC denied the motion. The denial of the said motion was served upon Atty. Felimon Nolasco (Atty.Nolasco) of the UPLB Legal Office on May 17, 2002. Notably, Atty. Nolasco was not the counsel of record of the UP but the OLS inDiliman, Quezon City.

Thereafter, the UP filed a notice of appeal on June 3, 2002. However, the RTC denied due course to the notice of appeal for having been filed out of time. On October 4, 2002, upon motion of Stern Builders, the RTC issued the writ of execution.

On appeal, both the CA and the High Court denied UPs petition. The denial became final and executory. Hence, Stern Builders filed in the RTC its motion for execution despite their previous motion having already been granted and despite the writ of execution having already issued. On June 11, 2003, the RTC granted another motion for execution filed on May 9, 2003 (although the RTC had already issued the writ of execution on October 4, 2002). Consequently, the sheriff served notices of garnishment to the UPs depositary banks and the RTC ordered the release of the funds.

Aggrieved, UP elevated the matter to the CA. The CA sustained the RTC. Hence, this petition.


I. Was UP's funds validly garnished?
II. Has the UP's appeal dated June 3, 2002 been filed out of time?
HELD: UP's funds, being government funds, are not subject to garnishment. (Garnishment of public funds; suability vs. liability of the State)

Despite its establishment as a body corporate, the UP remains to be a "chartered institution" performing a legitimate government function. Irrefragably, the UP is a government instrumentality, performing the States constitutional mandate of promoting quality and accessible education. As a government instrumentality, the UP administers special funds sourced from the fees and income enumerated under Act No. 1870 and Section 1 of Executive Order No. 714, and from the yearly appropriations, to achieve the purposes laid down by Section 2 of Act 1870, as expanded in Republic Act No. 9500. All the funds going into the possession of the UP, including any interest accruing from the deposit of such funds in any banking institution, constitute a "special trust fund," the disbursement of which should always be aligned with the UPs mission and purpose, and should always be subject to auditing by the COA. The funds of the UP are government funds that are public in character. They include the income accruing from the use of real property ceded to the UP that may be spent only for the attainment of its institutional objectives.

A marked distinction exists between suability of the State and its liability. As the Court succinctly stated in Municipality of San Fernando, La Union v. Firme: A distinction should first be made between suability and liability. "Suability depends on the consent of the state to be sued, liability on the applicable law and the established facts. The circumstance that a state is suable does not necessarily mean that it is liable; on the other hand, it can never be held liable if it does not first consent to be sued. Liability is not conceded by the mere fact that the state has allowed itself to be sued. When the state does waive its sovereign immunity, it is only giving the plaintiff the chance to prove, if it can, that the defendant is liable.

The Constitution strictly mandated that "no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law." The execution of the monetary judgment against the UP was within the primary jurisdiction of the COA. It was of no moment that a final and executory decision already validated the claim against the UP.

HELD: The period of appeal did not start without effective service of decision upon counsel of record. (The doctrine of immutability of a final judgment; service of judgments; fresh-period rule; computation of time)

At stake in the UPs plea for equity was the return of the amount of P16,370,191.74 illegally garnished from its trust funds. Obstructing the plea is the finality of the judgment based on the supposed tardiness of UPs appeal, which the RTC declared on September 26, 2002. It is true that a decision that has attained finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and cannot be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law, and whether the modification is made by the court that rendered it or by this Court as the highest court of the land. But the doctrine of immutability of a final judgment has not been absolute, and has admitted several exceptions, among them: (a) the correction of clerical errors; (b) the so-called nunc pro tunc entries that cause no prejudice to any party; (c) void judgments; and (d) whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision that render its execution unjust and inequitable. We rule that the UPs plea for equity warrants the Courts exercise of the exceptional power to disregard the declaration of finality of the judgment of the RTC for being in clear violation of the UPs right to due process.

Firstly, the service of the denial of the motion for reconsideration upon Atty. Nolasco of the UPLB Legal Office was invalid and ineffectual because he was admittedly not the counsel of record of the UP. Verily, the service of the denial of the motion for reconsideration could only be validly made upon the OLS in Diliman, and no other. It is settled that where a party has appeared by counsel, service must be made upon such counsel. This is clear enough from Section 2, second paragraph, of Rule 13, Rules of Court, which explicitly states that: "If any party has appeared by counsel, service upon him shall be made upon his counsel or one of them, unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. Where one counsel appears for several parties, he shall only be entitled to one copy of any paper served upon him by the opposite side."

Secondly, even assuming that the service upon Atty. Nolasco was valid and effective, such that the remaining period for the UP to take a timely appeal would end by May 23, 2002, it would still not be correct to find that the judgment of the RTC became final and immutable thereafter due to the notice of appeal being filed too late on June 3, 2002. In so declaring the judgment of the RTC as final against the UP, the CA and the RTC applied the rule contained in the second paragraph of Section 3, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court to the effect that the filing of a motion for reconsideration interrupted the running of the period for filing the appeal; and that the period resumed upon notice of the denial of the motion for reconsideration. For that reason, the CA and the RTC might not be taken to task for strictly adhering to the rule then prevailing.

However, equity calls for the retroactive application in the UPs favor of the fresh-period rule that the Court first announced in mid-September of 2005 through its ruling in Neypes v. Court of Appeals, viz: "to standardize the appeal periods provided in the Rules and to afford litigants fair opportunity to appeal their cases, the Court deems it practical to allow a fresh period of 15 days within which to file the notice of appeal in the Regional Trial Court, counted from receipt of the order dismissing a motion for a new trial or motion for reconsideration." The retroactive application of the fresh-period rule, a procedural law that aims "to regiment or make the appeal period uniform, to be counted from receipt of the order denying the motion for new trial, motion for reconsideration (whether full or partial) or any final order or resolution," is impervious to any serious challenge. This is because there are no vested rights in rules of procedure.

Consequently, even if the reckoning started from May 17, 2002, when Atty. Nolasco received the denial, the UPs filing on June 3, 2002 of the notice of appeal was not tardy within the context of the fresh-period rule. For the UP, the fresh period of 15-days counted from service of the denial of the motion for reconsideration would end on June 1, 2002, which was a Saturday. Hence, the UP had until the next working day, or June 3, 2002, a Monday, within which to appeal, conformably with Section 1 of Rule 22, Rules of Court, which holds that: "If the last day of the period, as thus computed, falls on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday in the place where the court sits, the time shall not run until the next working day. GRANTED.