G.R. No. 237383. June 06, 2018

SECOND DIVISION: [G.R. No. 237383, June 06, 2018] JOSEPH T. QUEZADA, PETITIONER, VERSUS THE COURT OF APPEALS (SPECIAL TWELFTH DIVISION) AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENTS.

This is a Petition for Certiorari[1] (Petition) filed under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court (Rules), assailing the Resolution[2] dated August 15, 2017 (questioned Resolution) of the Court of Appeals-Twelfth Division (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 40203. In the questioned Resolution, the CA denied a Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review[3] dated July 25, 2017 (Subject Motion) filed by herein petitioner Joseph T. Quezada (petitioner Quezada). Likewise assailed is the Resolution[4] dated December 14, 2017 of the CA, which denied Quezada's Motion for Reconsideration[5] dated September 5, 2017 of the questioned Resolution.

Factual Antecedents

The material facts, as gathered from the records, are as follows: Sometime in January 2010, petitioner Quezada, while driving a GMW Florida Bus, figured in a road accident along the National Highway of Bantay, Ilocos Sur, with one Jan Adriaen T. Avila (Avila), who was then riding a motorcycle. Avila was run over by the bus, causing his instantaneous death.

As a result of the foregoing incident, a charge for Reckless Imprudence Resulting to Homicide and Damage to Property was filed against petitioner Quezada, as follows:
That on or about 2:10 o'clock in the morning of January 27, 2010, along the National Highway at Aggay, Bantay, Ilocos Sur, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused [JOSEPH] QUEZADA y TEJANO, being then and there the driver of GMW Florida Bus with plate number NYD 212, willfully, unlawfully, and with reckless imprudence, and in violation of regulations, managed and drove said bus at a greater speed as was reasonable and proper, without due regard to traffic conditions (sic), and without sounding a horn or attracting in any way the attention of oncoming traffic, or keeping to the right-hand side of the highway according to the direction he was going, thereby causing the bus to run over one Jan Adriaen T. Avila, then driving a single motorcycle moving towards the opposite direction, and for which said Adriaen T. Avila suffered multiple injuries, fracturing his skull and causing his instantaneous death and damage to his motorcycle with Plate No. OL 9148 valued at P60,000 that if the acts committed by the defendant had been done with malice, he would have been guilty of the grave crime of homicide and the consequent damages to property.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[6] (Italics omitted)
The case was filed before the Municipal Trial Court of Bantay, Ilocos Sur (MTC) and docketed as Criminal Case No. 3532.

Ruling of the MTC

In a Decision[7] dated November 20, 2015, after trial on the merits, the MTC convicted petitioner Quezada, to wit:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused, JOSEPH QUEZADA y TEJANO, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Reckless Imprudence Resulting to Homicide and to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of two (2) years and four (4) months of prision correccional in its minimum period as minimum to six (6) years of prision correccional in its maximum period as maximum.

For the civil liability of the accused, Joseph Quezada is hereby ordered to indemnify the heirs of Jan Adriaen Avila the following amount:
  1. P151, 477.00 as actual or compensatory damages;
  2. P50,000.00 by way of indemnification for the death of Jan Adriaen Avila;
  3. P50,000.00 as moral damages;
  4. P25,000.00 as temperate damages;
  5. P30,000.00 as attorney's fee; and,
  6. Cost of suit.
SO ORDERED.[8]
Aggrieved, petitioner Quezada appealed his conviction to the Regional Trial Court of Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Branch 21 (RTC).

Ruling of the RTC

In a Decision[9] dated November 23, 2016, the RTC affirmed the MTC in toto:
From the foregoing, and in relation to the concept of proof beyond reasonable doubt discussed earlier, this court AFFIRMS the judgment of the Municipal Court of Bantay, Ilocos Sur appealed from, in TOTO.

SO ORDERED.[10]
A Motion for Reconsideration[11] filed by petitioner Quezada was denied by the RTC in an Order[12] dated June 23, 2017 (RTC Order). A copy of the RTC Order was received by petitioner Quezada on July 10, 2017.[13]

On July 25, 2017, the last day for filing a petition for review under Rule 42 with the CA,[14] petitioner Quezada filed the Subject Motion, praying for an additional period of fifteen (15) days, or until August 9, 2017, within which to file the proper petition.[15]

On August 8, 2017, petitioner Quezada accordingly filed a Petition for Review[16] dated August 7, 2017 via registered mail.

Ruling of the CA

On August 15, 2017, the CA issued the questioned Resolution denying the Subject Motion on the ground that the same was filed out of time for having been filed on the last day of the fifteen (15)-day reglementary period.

Subsequently, in a Resolution dated August 31, 2017 issued by the CA, the Petition for Review dated August 7, 2017 was "NOTED without action" in view of the questioned Resolution.[17]

Aggrieved, Quezada moved to reconsider the questioned Resolution, claiming that he was able to file the Subject Motion within the period prescribed under Rule 42, which was subsequently denied by the CA in its Resolution dated December 14, 2017.

Hence, this Petition.
Issue

Whether the CA committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the Subject Motion.

Discussion

The Petition is granted; this case is immediately remanded to the CA for appropriate action.

Section 1, Rule 42 of the Rules states:
SECTION 1. How appeal taken; time for filing. — x x x The petition shall be filed and served within fifteen (15) days from notice of the decision sought to be reviewed or of the denial of petitioner's motion for new trial or reconsideration filed in due time after judgment. Upon proper motion and the payment of the full amount of the docket and other lawful fees and the deposit for costs before the expiration of the reglementary period, the Court of Appeals may grant an additional period of fifteen (15) days only within which to file the petition for review. No further extension shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case to exceed fifteen (15) days. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Applying the foregoing provision to the present facts, the Court finds that the CA arbitrarily denied the Subject Motion.

Based on the CA's own narration in the questioned Resolution, petitioner Quezada filed the Subject Motion on July 25, 2017, i.e., the last day of the fifteen (15)-day reglementary period under Rule 42:
On 25 July 2017, the petitioner filed a motion praying that he be given an extension of at least fifteen (15) days from 25 July 2017 or until 09 August 2017 within which to file his petition for review because his counsel needed ample time to prepare the petition for he needed to go through the voluminous records of the case and to secure certified true copies of the pertinent records of the case from Vigan City.

The motion is devoid of merit.

In this case, counting 15 days from receipt of the 23 June 2017 order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) denying the petitioner's motion for reconsideration on 10 July 2017, the petitioner had until 25 July 2017 to file his petition. The motion for extension, however, was filed on the last day of the 15-day period leaving no period to extend at all. It is a fundamental rule in remedial law that a motion for extension of time must be filed before the expiration of the reglementary period sought to be extended.[18] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Despite the filing on the last day of the said period, which is still within the reglementary period, the CA denied the Subject Motion. This is error.

The CA's mistake appears to arise from its flawed understanding of basic procedural rules. Essentially, the CA posits that the last day of the reglementary period sought to be extended is not included in the reckoning of such period. However, to follow such logic would deprive the concerned party of one (1) entire day from the prescribed reglementary period to lodge an appeal under the Rules. In this regard, the CA effectively reduced petitioner Quezada's period to file a petition for review to fourteen (14)days, or from July 11, 2017 to July 24, 2017 only, which is patently contrary to Rule 42.

Remarkably, however, the CA contradicted itself by initially stating that petitioner Quezada "had until 25 July 2017 to file his petition"[19] while at the same time claiming that the filing of the Subject Motion "on the last day of the 15-day period"[20] is already beyond the reglementary period to file such petition. In support of its position, the CA relied on Naguit v. San Miguel Corporation.[21] The Court observes, however, that the ruling therein is wholly inapplicable to the case at bench as it involves a Rule 65 petition for certiorari, which is ordinarily non-extendible. This is not the case with a Rule 42 petition for review, which expressly allows an extension of fifteen (15) days under Section 1 thereof.

Indeed, the rules of procedure are mere tools intended to facilitate the orderly administration of justice and thus may be relaxed or waived in exceptional cases. However, this does not mean that the courts may freely reduce the period to appeal to the prejudice of an appellant. While the right to appeal is merely statutory, the courts are nevertheless enjoined to respect the minimum period laid down by the Rules within which to allow an appeal, or in the alternative, a motion for extension to file such an appeal.

The Court likewise notes that a Petition for Review dated August 7, 2017 was eventually filed before the expiration of the period prayed for, which is until August 9, 2017. Hence, even granting that the Subject Motion was indeed filed a day late as the CA would have it appear, it behooved the CA to exercise judicious discretion in taking cognizance of the Petition for Review dated August 7, 2017, considering that the instant case, being criminal in nature, involves no less than the liberty of petitioner Quezada.

Proceeding from the foregoing, the Court finds that the questioned Resolution was issued with grave abuse of discretion, which warrants the Court's exercise of its certiorari jurisdiction.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Petition is GRANTED, and the Resolutions dated August 15, 2017 and December 14, 2017 of the Court of Appeals-Twelfth Division in CA-G.R. CR No. 40203 are hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. This case is hereby ordered immediately REMANDED to the CA for appropriate action.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 4-22.

[2] Id. at 24-27. Penned by Associate Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr., with Associate Justices Leoncia R. Dimagiba and Henri Jean Paul B. Inting concurring.

[3] Id. at 64-68.

[4] Id. at 29-30. Penned by Associate Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr., with Associate Justices Ramon Paul L. Hernando and Henri Jean Paul B. Inting concurring.

[5] Id. at 137-143.

[6] Id. at 34.

[7] Id. at 52-58. Penned by Presiding Judge Bonhoefer V. Bernardez.

[8] Id. at 58.

[9] Id. at 59-62. Penned by Acting Presiding Judge Mario Anacleto M. BaƱez.

[10] Id. at 62.

[11] Id. at 70-77.

[12] Id. at 63.

[13] Id. at 65.

[14] See RULES OF COURT, Rule 42, Sec. 1.

[15] Rollo, p. 65.

[16] Id. at 31-51.

[17] Id. at 136.

[18] Id. at 24-25.

[19] Id. at 24.

[20] Id. at 24-25.

[21] 761 Phil. 184 (2015).

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