A final judgment CANNOT be reopened; exceptions

In the case of Bargas v. Bargas (G.R. No. 162158. January 15, 2014), the petitioners, in reality, sought to reopen and review a judgment that had long become final and executory. The Court cannot permit them to do so, for nothing is more settled in law than that a judgment that attains finality thereby becomes immutable and unalterable. The enforcement of a final and executory judgment cannot be hampered or evaded, for the immediate enforcement of the parties' rights, confirmed by final judgment, is a major component of the ideal administration of justice. Under the doctrine of finality and immutability of judgment, indeed, a decision that has attained finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and can no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is intended to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law, and whether the modification is to be made by the court that rendered the decision or by the Highest Court of the land.

This quality of immutability precludes the modification of a final judgment, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law. The orderly administration of justice requires that, at the risk of occasional errors, the judgments or resolutions of a court must reach a point of finality set by the law. The noble purpose is to write finis to a dispute once and for all. This is a fundamental principle in our justice system, without which litigations would be endless. Utmost respect and adherence to this principle must always be maintained by those who exercise the power of adjudication. Any act that violates the principle must immediately be struck down. A definitive final judgment, however erroneous, is no longer subject to change or revision. This principle of conclusiveness of prior adjudications is not confined in its operation to the judgments of what are ordinarily known as courts, but extends to all bodies upon which judicial powers have been conferred.The only recognized exceptions to the rule on the immutability of judgments are:
  1. The correction of clerical errors;
  2. The so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party;
  3. Void judgments; and
  4. Whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable.
The exceptions to the doctrine of immutability of judgment has been applied in several cases in order to serve substantial justice.

The case of Bargas v. Bargas (G.R. No. 162158. January 15, 2014) does not come under any of the exceptions. Although the petitioners there insisted that they were not duly served with notice of the decision, and that they learned of the decision and of the entry of the judgment only on March 20, 2003, such circumstances were not extraordinary enough as to merit the recall of the entry of judgment in order to reopen and review the judgment. The copy of the decision duly served on their counsel (Atty. Villaruz) was binding upon them. Verily, being parties represented by counsel, they were not entitled to notice of the decision or other papers from the court, unless required by the court to be served directly with notice, because the notice should be made on the counsel of record at his given address. As such, the notice to Atty. Villaruz bound them, and their reason could not be a ground to set the judgment aside.

And, secondly, the petitioners had the duty as party-litigants to be in contact with their counsel from time to time in order to be informed of the progress of their case. It was also their duty to inform the court of the fact of their counsel's intervening death. Their failure to comply with these duties meant that they were negligent in the protection of their cause. That it took them nearly two years to file their omnibus motion for the reconsideration of the decision and for the cancellation of the entry of judgment only exposed their lack of vigilance in the protection of their rights as litigants.

In Ampo v. Court of Appeals, where the court did not give due consideration to the ground given by the petitioner for recalling the entry of judgment, i.e., that its former counsel had died before the CA promulgated its decision, rendering the petitioner not properly notified of the judgment, the Supreme Court fittingly observed as follows:
Litigants who are represented by counsel should not expect that all they need to do is sit back, relax and await the outcome of their cases. Relief will not be granted to a party who seeks avoidance from the effects of the judgment when the loss of the remedy at law was due to his own negligence. The circumstances of this case plainly show that petitioner only has himself to blame. Neither can he invoke due process. The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard. Due process is satisfied when the parties are afforded a fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their respective sides of the controversy. Where a party, such as petitioner, was afforded this opportunity to participate but failed to do so, he cannot complain of deprivation of due process. If said opportunity is not availed of, it is deemed waived or forfeited without violating the constitutional guarantee.
The rule is that if a party-litigant has appeared by counsel, the service of pleadings and judgments shall be made upon his counsel or upon any of his counsel, if there are several of them, unless service upon the party himself is specifically directed by the court. It is not the duty of the court to inquire, during the progress of a case, whether the law firm or partnership representing one of the litigants continues to exist lawfully, whether the partners are still alive, or whether its associates are still connected with the firm. Consequently, for failure of the petitioners to notify the CA of the death of their counsel of record and to have said counsel substituted, the service of the decision at the law office designated by its counsel of record as his address was sufficient notice to them.

ADDITIONAL READINGS:

[1] Pahila-Garrido v. Tortogo, G.R. No. 156358, August 17, 2011, 655 SCRA 553, 558.
[2] FGU Insurance Corporation v. Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 66, G.R. No. 161282, February 23, 2011, 644 SCRA 50, 56.
[3] Gonzales v. Solid Cement Corporation, G.R. No. 198423, October 23, 2012, 684 SCRA 344, 350-351.
[4] Villa v. Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), G.R. No. 174642, October 30, 2009, 604 SCRA 742, 750.
[5] Mojar v. Agro Commercial Security Service Agency, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 187188, June SCRA 323, 333-334.
[6] G.R. No. 169091, February 16, 2006, 482 SCRA 562.

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