Miranda v. SSS (G.R. No. 238104, February 27, 2019)

[ G.R. No. 238104, February 27, 2019 ]
Assailed in the present petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court are the Decision[1] dated November 20, 2017 and the Resolution[2] dated March 12, 2018 issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 151522.

The factual and procedural antecedents of the case are as follows:

On July 20, 2006, herein respondent Social Security System (SSS), through its duly authorized representative, Carina L. Catahan, filed before co-respondent Social Security Commission (SSC) a Petition[3] for collection of unpaid SSS contributions and penalties against Onise Marketing (Onise) and herein petitioner Odelon Alvarez Miranda (Miranda). The Petition was docketed as SSC Case No. 7-16922-06.

In its Petition, SSS alleged that: Onise is an employer which is registered with SSS and that Miranda is the Manager/Owner of Onise; Onise and Miranda are liable for violation of Section 22, paragraphs (a), (c) and (d) of Republic Act (RA) No. 1161, otherwise known as "The Social Security Act of 1954," as amended by RA No. 8282, for having failed to remit the SSS contributions of their employees, as well as penalty liabilities, for the period between February 2002 and March 2006, in the total amount of P113,896.26, subject to final computation upon reconciliation of the correct premium contributions paid, if any. SSS prayed that "after due hearing a Warrant be issued to the Sheriff of the Honorable Commission, commanding him to levy upon and sell any real and/or personal property of [Onise and Miranda] wherever said property or properties may be found, and to garnish their bank accounts sufficient to satisfy [their] total amount of Contributions and Penalty liabilities to Social Security System."[4]

In its Order[5] dated February 5,  2007, the SSC declared Onise and Miranda in default for their failure to timely file their answer.

On April 24, 2013, the SSC issued a Resolution[6] with the following dispositive portion:
WHEREFORE, this Commission finds and so holds respondents Onise Marketing and Odelon A. Miranda, as Owner/Manager, liable for the balance of the unpaid SS contributions for the period February 2002 to March 2006 (not inclusive) in the amount of P16,659.00 and the 3% per month penalties thereon computed at P44,137.58, or the total amount of P60,796.58 as of March 15, 2013, plus the additional penalties accruing after the aforesaid date until fully paid, pursuant to Sections 18, 19 and 22(a) of R.A. 8282 of the SS Act of 1997.

Accordingly, said respondents are ordered to pay the SSS the aforementioned liability within thirty (30) days from receipt hereof.

This is without prejudice to the right of the SSS to file other appropriate actions against the respondents.

The SSC held that:
After a perusal of the records of the case, this Commission notes that despite the declaration of default against them, x x x Onise Marketing and Odelon A. Miranda made partial payments to cover their obligation to the SSS and receipt of said payments were acknowledged by the [respondent SSS] as rei1ected in its files. Likewise, part of [Onise and Miranda's] penalty liability was condoned in view of payments made, leaving a balance of P60,796.58, broken down into the contributions delinquency of P16,659.00 and the penalty liability of P44,137.58 based on the revised statement of liabilities detailing the same.

There is no question as to [Onise and Miranda's] liability for SS contributions and penalties under the SS Law, the amount of which the latter did not contest. On the other hand, [Onise and Miranda's] act of paying part of their obligation is a tacit admission of their liabilities as employer under the SS Law.[8]
Subsequently, the SSC issued a Writ of Execution[9] on July 15, 2015 and a Notice of Garnishment[10] on February 26, 2016.

On June 21, 2016, Miranda filed an Urgent Motion to Annul the Resolution elated April 24, 2013 and to Quash the Writ of Execution dated July 15, 2015 on the ground that the SSC did not acquire jurisdiction over his person. Miranda alleged that he has not, at any time, received any summons, notices or other legal processes, including the above-mentioned Order, Resolution, Writ of Execution and Notice of Garnishment issued by the SSS.[11]

In its Order[12] of August 10, 2016, the SSC denied Miranda's urgent Motion for lack of merit. The SSC ruled that it properly acquired jurisdiction over the person of Miranda on the ground that the Summons dated August 3, 2006, as well as a copy of the Petition filed by the SSS, was served upon and personally received by him. The SSC also reiterated its previous finding that, instead of moving for the lifting of the order of default against them, Onise and Miranda made partial payments of their obligation and even availed of the benefits of condonation under the law. Moreover, the SSC held that Onise and Miranda should be faulted for not receiving the subsequent Orders issued by the SSS because they failed to inform the latter of a change in their address on record. Lastly, the SSe ruled that there is no merit in Miranda's insistence that he was enoneously impleaded in the instant case because it is clear from the records of the SSS the he is the owner/manager of On Miranda filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but the SSC denied it in its Order[13] dated January 25, 2017.

Miranda then filed with the CA a petition[14] for certiorari and prohibition, under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, against herein respondents, seeking to annul and set aside the August 10, 2016 Order, as well as the January 25, 2017 Order and the April 24, 2013 Resolution of the SSC.

On November 20, 2017, the CA promulgated its assailed Decision, disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, the Petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The Order dated August 10, 2016 and the Resolution dated January 25, 2017 are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE, but only in so far as these deny the Motion to Quash the Writ of Execution dated July 15, 2016 in SSC Case No. 7-16922-06, which is hereby SET ASIDE.[15]
The CA held that Miranda belatedly filed his Motion for Reconsideration of the August 10, 2016 Order of the SSC. As such, the questioned Order has become final and executory. Nonetheless, the CA held that the April 24, 2013 Resolution of the SSC did not attain finality and its execution was irregular and void on the ground that the SSS and the SSC failed to present evidence to prove that there was valid service of the said Order to Miranda and Onise or to their counsel.

Miranda filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration, but the CA denied it in its Resolution dated March 12, 2018.

Hence, the present petition for review on certiorari based on the following grounds:




Petitioner Miranda's basic contention is that the questioned rulings of the SSC are not binding upon him because the SSC never acquired jurisdiction over his person. Petitioner alleges that he never received summons and notices in connection with the proceedings in the petition for collection of unpaid contributions and penalties filed by the SSS against him and Onise and that he only came to know of the case when he received a letter from his bank notifying him that his deposit in the said bank is subject to a Notice of Garnishment issued by the SSC.

The petition lacks merit for reasons to be discussed hereunder.

At the outset, the issue of whether or not petitioner indeed received summons and other legal processes is a question of fact and it is settled that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts.[17] Just as well entrenched is the doctrine that pure issues of fact may not be the proper subject of appeal by certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court as this mode of appeal is generally confined to questions of law.[18] While there are several recognized exceptions to this doctrine,[19] the Court finds that none applies to the instant case.

In addition, respondent SSC, in the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions, found that it had properly acquired jurisdiction over the person of petitioner. In its Order of August 10, 2016, it held, thus:
It is clear from the records, particularly the Proof of Service and the Sheriff's Return of Service dated August 25, 2006, that the Summons dated August 3, 2006 was served upon and personally received on August 25, 2006 by respondent Odelon Miranda, Owner/Manager of Onise Marketing. Since there was proper service of Summons, the Commission had properly acquired jurisdiction over the person of respondent Odelon Miranda. Likewise, because of the valid service of Summons with a copy of the Petition. suffice it to state that the requirements of due process had been met contrary to the claim of movant [herein petitioner].[20]
Settled is the rule that findings of fact of administrative agencies and quasi-judicial bodies, if supported by substantial evidence, are accorded not only respect but finality, especially when affirmed by the Court of Appeals.[21] Moreover, aside from their blanket denial that they received summons and other legal processes from the SSC, petitioner and Onise did not present evidence to prove such denial. Thus, the Court finds no cogent reason to depart from the findings of the SSC that it had, indeed, validly acquired jurisdiction over the person of petitioner and Onise.

Moreover, the SSC found that, based on its records, petitioner received the SSC's Order dated February 5, 2007 declaring him and Onise in default for their failure to file their answer within the prescribed period given them.[22]Furthermore, the SSC likewise noted that during the pendency of petitioner's case before it, petitioner and Onise "made partial payments for their obligation and in fact were able to enjoy condonation of penalty pursuant to Republic Act 9903 (Social Security Condonation Law of 2009)[.]"[23] These payments were found by SSC to have been made in August and September 2007.[24] Again, aside from his blanket denial, petitioner never sufficiently refuted these findings. Hence, the Court agrees with the conclusion of respondents that these instances belie petitioner's claim that he only learned of the case against him when he received a letter from his bank which notified him of the garnishment of his deposit with the said bank. On the contrary, the only logical conclusion that can be reached, on the basis of petitioner and Onise's act of making partial payments, is that they are aware of the case filed by the SSS against them.

The Court, at this stage, takes exception to the ruling of the CA that there was no valid and effective service of the April 24, 2013 Resolution of the SSC which found petitioner and Onise liable. The Court, likewise, does not agree with the CA that the said Resolution may not be the subject of a writ of execution on the ground that it never became final and executory.

The basis of the above ruling of the CA is its finding that "there is nothing in the record[s] to prove that personal service on petitioner was completed, or that the Order dated April 24, 2013 was served by registered mail on petitioner, and that despite notice by the postmaster, petitioner did not claim or receive that Order."[25]

In the present case, there is no dispute that the Resolution and the Orders of the SSC, subsequent to its Order dated February 5, 2007, were returned with the notation "Moved out" and that petitioner and Onise did not inform the SSC of any change in their address on record. In this regard, the CA, citing the case of Philemploy Services and Resources, Inc. v. Rodriguez,[26] held that "[a]n order cannot be deemed to have become final and executory in view of the absence of a valid service, whether personally or via registered mail on the respondent's counsel" and that "[e]nvelopes bearing notations 'return to sender unclaimed' do not constitute proof that notice was sent to the addressee, much less that there was completeness of service."[27]

The Court does not agree.

The settled rule is that the requirement of conclusive proof of receipt of a notice presupposes that the notice is sent to the correct address as indicated in the records of the court.[28] In the instant case, copies of Orders and other legal processes, particularly the SSC's Resolution dated April 24, 2013, were sent to petitioner and Onise's given address, but the copies did not reach them because they had moved therefrom without informing the sse of their new location.

In the case of Arra Realty Corp., et al. v. Paces Industrial Corp.,[29] this Court, citing the case of Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Heirs of Zamora,[30] held that the petitioner in the latter case also moved to another address, but failed to file a notice of change of address with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Hence, when a copy of the NLRC decision was sent to said petitioner's address of record via registered mail, the same was returned to sender. In said case, the Court ruled, thus:
The rule on service by registered mail contemplates two situations: (1) actual service, the completeness of which is determined upon receipt by the addressee of the registered mail; and (2) constructive service, the completeness of which is determined upon expiration of five days from the date the addressee received the first notice of the postmaster. A party who relies on constructive service or who contends that his adversary has received a copy of a final order or judgment upon the expiration of five days from the date the addressee received the first notice sent by the postmaster must prove that the first notice was actually received by the addressee. Such proof requires a certified or sworn copy of the notice given by the postmaster to the addressee.
In the instant case, there is no postmaster's certification to the effect that the registered mail containing the NLRC decision was unclaimed by the addressee and thus returned to sender, after first notice was sent to and received by the addressee on a specified date. All that appears from the records are the envelopes containing the NLRC decision with the stamped markings and notation on the face and dorsal sides thereof showing "RTS" (meaning, "Return To Sender") and "MOVED." Still, we must rule that service upon PAL and the other petitioners was complete.

First , the NLRC Deputy Executive Clerk issued a Certification that the envelopes containing the NLRC decision addressed to Mr. Jose Pepiton Garcia and Atty. Bienvenido T. Jamoralin, Jr. were returned to the NLRC with the notation "RTS" and "MOVED." Yet, they and the other petitioners, including PAL, have not filed any notice of change of address at any time prior to the issuance of the NLRC decision up to the date when the Certification was issued on January 24, 2000.

Second, the non-receipt by PAL and the other petitioners of the copies of the NLRC decision was due to their own failure to immediately file a notice of change of address with the NLRC, which they expressly admitted. It is settled that where a party appears by attorney in an action or proceeding in a court of record, all notices or orders required to be given therein must be given to the attorney of record. Accordingly, notices to counsel should be properly sent to his address of record, and, unless the counsel files a notice of change of address, his official address remains to be that of his address of record.x x x[.] To our mind, it would have been more prudent had PAL informed the NLRC that it has moved from one floor to another rather than allowed its old address at Allied Bank Center to remain as its official address. To rule in favor of PAL considering the circumstances in the instant case would negate the purpose of the rules on completeness of service and the notice of change of address, which is to place the date of receipt of pleadings, judgments and processes beyond the power of the party being served to determine at his pleasure.

Resultantly, service of the NLRC decision via registered mail was deemed completed as of August 16, 1999, or five days after the first notice on August 11, 1999. As such, PAL only had 1 0 days from August 16, 1999 to file its motion for reconsideration. Its motion filed on October 29, 1999 was, therefore, late. Hence the NLRC decision became final and executory.[31] (Emphases, underscores and italics in the original; citation omitted.)
Thus, in the present case, the service at the old address of petitioner and Onise should be considered valid. Otherwise, no process can be served on them if they simply disappeared without leaving a forwarding address.

It is erroneous on the part of the CA to have relied on the ruling in Philemploy Services and Resources, Inc. v. Rodriguez[32] because in the said case, the notice to the other party's counsel was sent to the address on record, unlike in the present case, where the notice was sent to the address on record, but petitioner changed his address and did not inform the SSC of the same.

On the basis of the foregoing, the service of the April 24, 2013 Resolution of the SSC at petitioner's address on record should, thus, be considered valid and effective, and the said Resolution became final and executory after the expiration of the period within which to appeal, without any appeal being filed. As a consequence, the July 15, 2015 Writ of Execution issued by the SSC is, likewise, valid. Hence, contrary to the assailed ruling of the CA, the SSC did not commit grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioner's Motion to Quash the said Writ.

Finally, this Court is not persuaded by petitioner's asseveration that he is entitled to a liberal construction of the rules on the ground that a rigid application thereof will deny him substantial justice.

While it is true that this Court has applied a liberal application of the rules of procedure in a number of cases, we have stressed that this can be invoked only in proper cases and under justifiable causes and circumstances.[33] In the instant case, aside from his contention that he should be given his day in court in the interest of substantial justice, petitioner did not give a reasonable cause to justify non-compliance with the rules. Petitioner failed to support, with substantial evidence, his argument as to how and why a normal application of procedural rules would frustrate his quest for justice. The bare invocation of "the interest of substantial justice" line is not some magic wand that will automatically compel this Court to suspend procedural rules.[34] Procedural rules are not to be belittled, let alone dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party's substantial rights.[35] It cannot be gainsaid that obedience to the requirements of procedural rules is needed if we are to expect fair results therefrom and utter disregard of the rules cannot justly be rationalized by harking on the policy of liberal construction.[36]

WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review on certiorari is DENIED. The Decision, dated November 20, 2017, and the Resolution, dated March 12, 2018, issued by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 151522 are AFFIRMEDwith MODIFICATION in the sense that the Writ of Execution dated July 15, 2015, the Order dated August 10, 2016, and the Order dated January 25, 2017 of the Social Security Commission in SSC Case No. 7-16922-06 are AFFIRMED in toto.


Leonen, Reyes, Jr., Hernando and Carandang, JJ., concur.

March 14, 2019

N O T I C E    O F  J U D G M E N T


Please take notice that on February 27, 2019 a Decision, copy attached hereto, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on March 14, 2019 at 1:45 p.m.

Very truly yours,

Division Clerk of Court 

* Designated as additional member per Special Order No. 2624 dated November 28, 2018.

[1] Rollo, pp. 45-51. Penned by Associate Justice Pablito A. Perez, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Ricardo R. Rosario and Ramon A. Cruz.

[2] Id. at 52-54.

[3] Id. at 85-88.

[4] Id. at 87 .

[5] Id. at 81.

[6] Id at 81-84.

[7] Id. at 83.

[8] Id. at 82-83.

[9] Id. at 73 .

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at 73-78.

[13] Id. at 79-80.

[14] Id. at 55-68.

[15] Id. at 50 .

[16] Id. at 27-28.

[17] Co v. Vargas , 676 Phil. 463,470 (2011).

[18] Gatus v. Social Security System , 655 Phil. 550, 561 (2011).

[19] Recognized exceptions to this rule are: (1) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises or conjectures; (2) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (3) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) when the judgment is based on misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when in making its findings the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellee and the appellant; (7) when the findings are contrary to the trial court; (8) when the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent; (10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; or (11) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion (Rep. of the Phils. v. Asiapro Cooperative, 563 Phil. 979, 997 [2007]).

[20] Rollo, p. 75.

[21] Oasay, Jr. v. Palacio del Gobernador Condominium Corp., et al., 681 Phil. 69, 79 (2012); and Gatus v. Social Security Systemsupra note 18, at 562.

[22] Rollo, p. 75.

[23] Id. at 75-76.

[24] Id. at 76.

[25] Id. at 49-50.

[26] 520 Phil. 828 (2006).

[27] Rollo, p. 50.

[28] Vill Transport Service, Inc. v. Court of Appeals. 271 Phil. 25, 31 (1991 ).

[29] 651 Phil. 57,64 (2010).

[30] 601 Phil. 655 (2009).

[31] Arra Realty Corp., et al. v. Paces Industrial Corp., supra note 29, at 65-66.

[32] Supra note 26.

[33] Land Bank of the Phils. v. Court of Appeals. et al., 789 Phil. 577, 583 (2016).

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Alamayri v. Pabale, et al., 576 Phil. 1 46, 165 (2008).