G.R. No. 237104. November 21, 2018

FIRST DIVISION: [G.R. No. 237104, November 21, 2018] R.U. AQUINO CONSTRUCTION & DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION [RUA] V. FU-TAI PHILIPPINES, INC.

Before this Court is a petition for review on certiorari[1] assailing the Resolutions dated August 15, 2017[2] and January 24, 2018[3] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 151120. The assailed Resolutions dismissed the petition for review before the CA for being filed out of time, and for failure to show that the verification and certification of non-forum shopping was signed by an authorized person.

This case arose from a complaint filed by respondent Fu-tai Philippines, Inc. (Fu-tai) against R.U. Aquino Construction & Development Corporation (RUA) and Stronghold Insurance Company, Inc. (SICI) before the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission (CIAC).[4] The case involved the pre-termination of the structural, architectural, and civil works for the construction of the Northgate Cyberzone District Cooling System Building in Filinvest, Alabang, Muntinlupa City.[5]

The main contractor for the project is Modair Manila Company, Limited (Modair) which was hired by the Project Owner to construct the District Cooling System Plant. Modair subcontracted the structural, civil, and architectural works for the project to respondent Fu-tai through Subcontract Agreement dated March 24, 2016 (Fu-tai Subcontract) in the amount of P103,000,000.00. In turn, respondent Fu-tai further subcontracted the same project to petitioner RUA through Subcontract Agreement dated April 14, 2016 (RUA Subcontract) in the amount of P78,800,000.00.[6]

Subsequently, however, Modair terminated its subcontract with respondent Fu-tai due to claims of violations, including delay in the performance of work, which qualify as breach of the Fu-tai Subcontract.[7] The termination of the Fu-tai Subcontract prompted respondent Fu-tai to file a claim against RUA and SICI before the CIAC on the basis of the RUA Subcontract.[8]

Respondent Fu-tai claimed the total amount of P29,311,529.61 consisting of its claim under the Performance Bond and the legal interest thereto, overpayment, attorney's fees, exemplary damages, and litigation expenses.[9] After the arbitration proceedings, the CIAC eventually found for respondent Fu-tai. The CIAC issued the Final Award[10]dated May 16, 2017 ordering petitioner RUA to pay the total amount of P1,524,004.25 consisting of P1,362,117.90 as overpayment and a refund of arbitration fees in the amount of P161,886.35.[11]

Aggrieved, petitioner RUA filed an appeal before the CA, assailing the Final Award issued by the CIAC. It initially moved for an extension of time to file the appeal, which the CA granted. Petitioner RUA was thus given until June 24, 2017 within which to file the appeal. The due date, however, fell on a Saturday, and June 26, 2017 was declared a non-working holiday. Hence, the last day of the extended period was on June 27, 2017.[12]

The CA, however, dismissed the petition outright (1) for being filed out of time, or on June 28, 2017, the date when the registered mail was recorded; and (2) for failure to submit proof of Engineer Jonathan L. Mahilum's (Engr. Mahilum) authority to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping. The dismissal was embodied in the assailed Resolution[13] dated August 15, 2017. Petitioner RUA filed a motion for reconsideration of the outright dismissal of its appeal, but the motion was likewise denied in the assailed Resolution[14] dated January 24, 2018.

Thus, petitioner RUA filed this petition for review on certiorari, arguing that the CA acted contrary to law when it dismissed outright its appeal on pure technicality and merely on procedural rules. On June 18, 2018, we required respondent Fu-tai to comment on the petition,[15] which it duly filed on September 20, 2018.[16]

The sole issue confronting this Court is whether the CA acted contrary to law when it dismissed outright the appeal of petitioner RUA (1) for being filed out of time, and (2) for failure to provide proof of authority of Engr. Mahilum, its Vice President for Operations,[17] to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping.

We grant the petition and agree with petitioner RUA that the CA erred in dismissing the appeal.

The Appeal Was Filed On Time

Records disclose that petitioner RUA filed its appeal before the CA through registered mail, a manner authorized by the Rules of Court.[18] The Rules also provide that in cases where pleadings are filed through registered mail, the date of the mailing of the pleading, as shown by the post office stamp on the envelope or the registry receipt, shall be considered as the date of its filing.[19] Based on this provision, the date of filing is determinable from two sources: (1) the post office stamp on the envelope, or (2) the registry receipt, either of which may suffice to prove the timeliness of the filing of the pleadings.[20]

In this case, petitioner RUA presented the following documents to prove that it filed the appeal on time, to wit: (a) Registry Receipt No. RD 714 247 357 ZZ issued by the SM Manila postal counter; (b) copy of the booklet of the postal station containing the duplicate originals of the registry receipts issued on June 27, 2017; and (c) the affidavit of Ms. Rhossel P. Yap, the law clerk who caused the filing of the appeal.[21] As required by Section 3, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court, all these pieces of evidence prove that the date of filing of the appeal was June 27, 2017, or within the extended period.

Besides, the seeming variance on the date of filing of the appeal was sufficiently explained in the affidavit of Ms. Yap who attested, thus:
x x x x

9. With respect to the service of the Petition to the Court of Appeals through registered mail, the Registry Receipt given to me is dated 27 June 2017. This is evidenced by the Registry Receipt itself issued by the SM Manila Post Office with the same date of 27 June 2017. The date of the Registry Receipt issued by the Post Office in Manila is 27 June 2017 bearing No. RD 714247357ZZ with the corresponding barcode.

10. The explanation given to me by Ms. De Guzman as regards the posting date of 28 June 2017 instead of 27 June 2017 is that the SM Manila Postal Counter has a daily cut-off at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. This means that all mails received by their station past 3:00 o'clock in afternoon [sic] will be recorded as mailed the following day. Given that the Postal Counter in SM Manila is only a station, all the mails are picked-up [sic] by the main Post Office in Lawton, Manila at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. All other mails after 3:00 o'clock afternoon [sic] of the same day shall be picked up the following day and shall be recorded on such day together with all other mails before the 3:00 o'clock afternoon cut-off. This is a matter of internal procedure between the main Post Office and the Postal Counter station in SM Manila.

11. This explains the discrepancy that while the Registry Receipts indicate the date of 27 June 2017 as the date of mailing, the recording date or registered date appears as 28 June 2017. It is [a] matter of internal procedure between the main Post Office and a postal station such as the SM Postal Counter in the manner of recording the date of registry.[22]
x x x x
In view of the foregoing, we hold that based on the records of the case, petitioner RUA filed the appeal on time. As far as petitioner RUA is concerned, the appeal was filed within the extended period. The manner and proof of filing of the petition have been established to be in compliance with the Rules of Court. To reiterate, the registry receipt indicates that the date of filing is June 27, 2017. The registry receipt and the affidavit of the person who did the mailing, containing a full statement of the date and place of depositing the mail in the post office, have sufficiently proved the timeliness of the filing of the petition before the CA.[23] There was therefore no reason to dismiss petitioner RUA's appeal on this ground.

There is no defect in the
Verification and Certification of
Non-Forum Shopping


The CA also dismissed the appeal on the ground that petitioner RUA failed to submit proof that Engr. Mahilum, its Vice President for Operations, was authorized to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping.

Examination of the records of this case compels us to disagree with the CA.

Petitioner RUA submits that the failure to attach the Secretary's Certificate authorizing Engr. Mahilum to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping was merely due to inadvertence. In fact, it posits that the pleading itself (petition before the CA), particularly paragraph 2.1 thereof, mentions and refers to a Secretary's Certificate that is attached to the pleading.[24]

Petitioner RUA's claim is supported by the attestation of Ms. Yap, as contained in her affidavit, in this wise, thus:
x x x x

12. With regard to the failure to attach the Secretary's Certificate, I simply overlooked the same. It was merely due to inadvertence and excusable negligence. The Secretary's Certificate needed to be attached in the Petition is the same Secretary's Certificate issued way back in December 2016 in the proceedings before CIAC authorizing Engr. Jonathan Mahilum to sign the Verification and Certification of all the legal documents such as but not limited to Position Paper, Memorandum of Appeal, Petition for Certiorari until the finality of this case. This Secretary's Certificate is attached to the ANSWER of the client filed before the CIAC.

13. I remember Atty. Armas' instruction on reproducing the said Secretary's Certificate to be attached in the present Petition. If the Petition for Review did not contain the required Secretary's Certificate, then it must be due to mere inadvertence.[25] 
x x x x
A distinction must be made between noncompliance and substantial compliance with the requirements of a verification and certification of non-forum shopping. In this case, and as attested to by Ms. Yap in her affidavit, the Secretary's Certificate authorizing Engr. Mahilum to sign is attached to the answer of petitioner RUA in the proceedings before the CIAC. Further, a perusal of the Secretary's Certificate[26] also shows that Engr. Mahilum, Vice President for Operations, is "expressly authorized to represent the Corporation and cause the filing of the ANSWER before the [CIAC] with authority to sign and execute the VERIFICATION and CERTIFICATION of the same and all legal documents such as but not limited to Position Paper, Memorandum of Appeal, Petition for Certiorari until the finality thereof in the case entitled FU-TAI PHILIPPINES, INC. vs. [RUA]."[27] According to petitioner RUA, this Secretary's Certificate has never been revoked or nullified by its Board of Directors.[28]

In this light, we note that this case is not one of belated submission of proof of authority to sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping, much less a case of noncompliance with the requirements thereof. Under the facts of this case, the failure to submit proof of Engr. Mahilum's authority to sign refers only to the failure to attach the same to the petition due to inadvertence, which has been sufficiently explained by petitioner RUA.

As evidenced by the Secretary's Certificate, the indisputable fact is that Engr. Mahilum's authority has been vested since the onset of the case in the CIAC, and continues until its finality. We also take note that the nature of the position of Engr. Mahilum as the Vice President for Operations is consistent with his competence to verify the truthfulness and correctness of the allegations in the petition, which delve heavily into the structural, architectural, and civil works of the subject project.[29]

In view of the foregoing, we hold that the CA should not have dismissed petitioner's appeal outright. It is worthy to reiterate that the dismissal of an appeal on purely technical grounds is frowned upon especially if it will result in unfairness. The rules of procedure ought not to be applied in a very rigid, technical sense for they have been adopted to help secure, not override, substantial justice. For this reason, courts must proceed with caution so as not to deprive a party of statutory appeal; rather, they must ensure that all litigants are granted the amplest opportunity for the proper and just ventilation of their causes, free from the constraint of technicalities.[30]

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions of the Court of Appeals dated August 15, 2017 and January 24, 2018 in CA-G.R. SP No. 151120 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Let the records of this case be REMANDED to the Court of Appeals which is hereby DIRECTED to take appropriate action thereon in light of the foregoing discussion with DISPATCH.

SO ORDERED.

Bersamin, J., designated as Acting Chairperson per Special Order No. 2606 dated October 10, 2018; Gesmundo, J., designated as Additional Member per Special Order No. 2607 dated October 10, 2018.

[1] Rollo, pp. 9-24.

[2] Id. at 28-30. Penned by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Ramon A. Cruz and Pablito A. Perez.

[3] Id. at 31.

[4] Id. at 32.

[5] Id. at 11.

[6] Id. at 44.

[7] Id. at 45-46.

[8] Id. at 11.

[9] Id. at 35.

[10] Id. at 32-56.

[11] Id. at 55-56.

[12] Id. at 28.

[13] Supra note 2.

[14] Supra note 3.

[15] Rollo, p. 77.

[16] Id. at 78.

[17] Id. at 27.

[18] RULES OF COURT, Rule 13, Sec. 3. Manner of filing. — The filing of pleadings, appearances, motions, notices, orders, judgments and all other papers shall be made by presenting the original copies thereof, plainly indicated as such, personally to the clerk of court or by sending them by registered mail. In the first case, the clerk of court shall endorse on the pleading the date and hour of filing. In the second case, the date of the mailing of motions, pleadings, or any other papers or payments or deposits, as shown by the post office stamp on the envelope or the registry receipt, shall be considered as the date of their filing, payment, or deposit in court. The envelope shall be attached to the record of the case. (Emphasis ours.)

[19] Id.

[20] Quebral v. Angbus Construction, Inc., G.R. No. 221897, November 7, 2016, 807 SCRA 176, 186.

[21] Rollo, pp. 16-18, 61-66.

[22] Id. at 17-18, 59-60. Emphasis ours. The lower portion of the copy of the affidavit on page 59 is missing. The complete copy, however, can be found on rollo, pp. 16-18.

[23] See RULES OF COURT, Rule 13, Sec. 12. Proof of filing. — The filing of a pleading or paper shall be proved by its existence in the record of the case. If it is not in the record, but is claimed to have been filed personally, the filing shall be proved by the written or stamped acknowledgment of its filing by the clerk of court on a copy of the same; if filed by registered mail, by the registry receipt and by the affidavit of the person who did the mailing, containing a full statement of the date and place of depositing the mail in the post office in a sealed envelope addressed to the court, with postage fully prepaid, and with instructions to the postmaster to return the mail to the sender after ten (10) days if not delivered. (Emphasis ours.)

[24] Rollo, pp. 18-19.

[25] Id. at 60.

[26] Submitted by petitioner RUA as an attachment to its motion for reconsideration of the CA's Resolution dismissing its appeal; id. at 68, 75.

[27] Id. at 75.

[28] Id. at 66.

[29] See Rombe Eximtrade (Phils.), Inc. v. Asiatrust Development Bank, G.R. No. 164479, February 13, 2008, 545 SCRA 253, 259-260, where this Court held, thus:

On the matter of verification, the purpose of the verification requirement is to assure that the allegations in a petition were made in good faith or are true and correct, not merely speculative. The verification requirement is deemed substantially complied with when one who has ample knowledge to swear to the truth of the allegations in the petition signed the verification attached to it, and when matters alleged in the petition have been made in good faith or are true and correct. In this case, we find that the position, knowledge, and experience of Ferrer as Manager and Head of the Acquired Assets Unit of Asiatrust, and his good faith, are sufficient compliance with the verification and certification requirements. x x x (Citation omitted.)

[30] Cebu Metro Pharmacy, Inc. v. Euro-Med Laboratories, Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 164757, October 18, 2010, 633 SCRA 320, 331.

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