G.R. No. 162158. Jan 15, 2014

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 162158, January 15, 2014 ]
MONSERRAT BERMEJO-BARGAS, SUBSTITUTED BY: JOSE SANTIAGO B. BARGAS, MONA LOURDES B. BARGAS, LUISITO B. BARGAS & JUVY C. BARGAS, PETITIONERS, V. ADRIANO BARGAS, MILDRED BARGAS-PALACIOS, MAGDALENA BARGAS - BUENVENIDA, JOSEFINA BARGAS-AGANA, HELEN BARGAS-LOMARDA, EXCERSA BARREDO-BARGAS, THELMA BARGAS-AGANA, BELTRAN BARGAS, JOSE BARGAS, CORAZON BARGAS-LOMARDA, JESUS BARGAS, CLARO BARGAS AND JOSEFINA BARREDO-BARGAS, RESPONDENTS. [ G.R. No. 162158, January 15, 2014 ] MONSERRAT BERMEJO-BARGAS, SUBSTITUTED BY: JOSE SANTIAGO B. BARGAS, MONA LOURDES B. BARGAS, LUISITO B. BARGAS & JUVY C. BARGAS, PETITIONERS, V. ADRIANO BARGAS, MILDRED BARGAS-PALACIOS, MAGDALENA BARGAS - BUENVENIDA, JOSEFINA BARGAS-AGANA, HELEN BARGAS-LOMARDA, EXCERSA BARREDO-BARGAS, THELMA BARGAS-AGANA, BELTRAN BARGAS, JOSE BARGAS, CORAZON BARGAS-LOMARDA, JESUS BARGAS, CLARO BARGAS AND JOSEFINA BARREDO-BARGAS, RESPONDENTS.

This appeal has been taken to seek the undoing of the decision promulgated on June 28, 2001 in CA-G.R. CV No. 48747,[1] whereby the Court of Appeals (CA), reversed the decision rendered on November 29, 1994 in Special Civil Action No. V-6187 by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 15, in Roxas City,[2] and directed the partition of the properties subject of the litigation equally among the petitioners and the respondents.

The antecedents are not disputed.

Amada Borres Bargas and her eight children, namely: Felix, Andres, Napoleon, Sr., Mildred, Leonora, Magdalena, Josefina and Helen, all surnamed Bargas, were the registered owners of two parcels of land, denominated as Lot No. 3136 and Lot No. 3141, situated in Pawa, Panay, Capiz and respectively covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-1188 (with an area of 342,823 square meters)[3] and TCT No. T-3189 (with an area of 74,105 square meters),[4] with Amada owning half of both lots and her eight children co-owning the remaining half portions. On May 10, 1967, Amada and her children mortgaged the lots in favor of the Development Bank of the Philippines under an agreement whereby Napoleon, Sr. and Josefina would jointly assume the obligation to pay the loan and for the latter to have the right to possess the lots for 10 years. Napoleon, Sr. died in 1969, and his widow, petitioner Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas, took over the possession of Lot No. 3136, on which was a fishpond with an area of 120,399 square meters that was under lease to Simeon Vasquez. Monserrat exclusively appropriated the harvests and rents of the fishpond to her own use and benefit.

Upon his death in 1970, Felix was survived by his wife, Excelsa, and their children, Thelma, Beltran and Jose, all surnamed Bargas. Napoleon, Sr. was survived by Monserrat and their children, namely: Napoleon, Jr., Jose Santiago, Ruben, Mona Lourdes, Luisito and Rudy. Amada herself died in 1971, survived by her children Mildred, Magdalena, Josefina, Helen, Leonora, as well as by the heirs of Felix, Andres, and Napoleon, Sr. Andres died in 1985 and was survived by Adriano, his only child. Leonora died in 1986 but had sold her share to the subject lots to Adriano during her lifetime.

On July 6, 1992, respondents Adriano, Mildred, Magdalena, Josefina, Helen and Thelma sued Monserrat and her children, who are her co-petitioners herein, in the RTC in Roxas City, demanding the partition of the properties, accounting and damages (Special Civil Action No. V-6187).[5] The respondents (as plaintiffs) prayed, inter alia, that the two lots be partitioned among the petitioners and the respondents; and that Monserrat be ordered to render an accounting of the net income from the fishpond and the upland portions of Lot No. 3136 that she had possessed since 1969.

In their answer,[6] the petitioners averred that Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat had purchased the shares of Amada, Felix and Mildred in the lots; that on October 23, 1967, Amada had executed a written acknowledgment of the obligation to pay the bank loan in the name of Napoleon, Sr. in the sum of P10,907.40, inclusive of the principal and interest as well as the indebtedness of Felix, Magdalena and Josefina; that the amount to be paid by Napoleon Sr. should be deducted from the price of the share of Amada in the fishpond that Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat had purchased from Amada;[7] that Napoleon, Sr. had complied with the obligation in favor of the bank, which was the reason for the bank to release the TCTs of the lots under mortgage; that they had been in possession of the lots for almost 30 years; and that the respondents' cause of action already prescribed or was barred by laches.On November 29, 1994, the RTC rendered its decision in Special Civil Action No. V-6187[8] confirming the sale of Amada, Mildred and Felix of their respective shares in the lots to Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat, and declaring respondents Magdalena, Josefina, Helen, Adriano, Monserrat and the petitioners co-owners with their corresponding shares, to wit:

WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, judgment is hereby rendered:

1)
Confirming the sale of Amada Borres-Bargas over her 8/16 share equivalent to a total area of 149,837.5 sq. meters in each of subject Lot Nos. 3136 and 3141 in favor of Napoleon Bargas, Sr. and defendant Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas;
2)
Confirming the sale of plaintiff Mildred Bargas-Palacios over the 1/16 share equivalent to 18,729.675 sq. meters in each of subject 2 lots in favor of Napoleon Bargas, Sr. and defendant Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas;
3)
Confirming the sale of Felix Bargas over his 1/16 share equivalent to a total area of 18,729.675 sq. meters in each of subject 2 lots in favor of Napoleon Bargas, Sr. and defendant Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas;
4)
Declaring plaintiffs Magdalena Bargas-Buenvenida, Josefina Bargas-Agana, Helen Bargas-Lomarda, Adriano Bargas, and defendants Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas, Napoleon Bargas, Jr., Jose Santiago Bargas, Mona Lourdes Bargas, Luisito Bargas, Rudy Bargas, Chona Martelino Bargas, Rhona Bargas, Regina Bargas and Ruben Bargas, Jr.. co-owners of subject Lot Nos. 3136 and 3141 under the following sharing:
Magdalena Bargas-Buenvenida
1/16 or 18,729.675 sq. meters
Josefina Bargas-Agana
1 /16 or 18,729.675 sq. meters
Helen Bargas-Lomarda
1/16 or 18,729.675 sq. meters
Adriano Bargas
2/16 or 37,459.350 sq. meters;
Monserrat Bermejo-Bargas, Napoleon Bargas, Jr., Jose Santiago Bargas, Mona Lourdes Bargas, Luisito Bargas, Rudy Bargas and Ruben Bargas (represented by Chona Martelino-Bargas, Rhona Bargas and Regina Bargas
11/16 or 206,026.525 sq. meters;
5. Ordering the declared co-owners mentioned in the immediately preceding paragraph to partition among themselves within thirty (30) days from receipt of this decision the subject Lots Nos. 3136 and 3142 consonantly with the shares adjudged to each of them, otherwise, if the parties fail to do so, they are directed to notify this court of such fact and the reason(s) therefor within ten (10) days from the expiration of the said 30-day period, so that Commissioner(s) may be appointed to effect the partition pursuant to Section 3, Rule 69 of the Revised Rules of Court.
Claims for damages of plaintiffs and defendants are hereby ordered dismissed for lack of merit. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.[9]
The respondents appealed to the CA. They mainly argued that the RTC had erred in holding that Amada, Felix and Mildred had sold their shares in the lots to Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat on the basis of the receipts thumb marked by Amada and signed by Felix and Mildred; that the receipts had been only proof of the money given to Amada, Felix and Mildred in the form of loans extended by Napoleon, Sr.; that there had been no deed of sale presented by petitioners to prove their purchase of the shares of Amada, Felix and Mildred; that the RTC had erred in not ordering the petitioners to render an accounting of their income from Lot No. 3136; and that the RTC had further erred in holding Amada, Felix, and Mildred or their heirs barred by prescription and laches from assailing the sale of their shares to Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat.

On June 28, 2001, the CA promulgated its decision.[10] It reversed and set aside the judgment of the RTC, and held that the parties never got past the negotiation stage on the transfers; and ruled that the allegedly preponderant evidence establishing a perfected sale that the RTC had relied did not prove any final arrangement containing the essential elements of a contract of sale. It explained as follows:

Exhibits "2" to "55" did not clearly and sufficiently show that they were payments for the purchase of the whole subject properties pertaining to the plaintiffs-appellants, by the defendants. They did not even unequivocally mention the specific properties to which they pertain. In simpler terms, the object and the price of the contract are not certain. The wordings as well as the intent of the parties were not clearly and distinctly reflected in those exhibits to conclude that there was a sale of the subject properties with their clear and exact metes and bounds, as well as its purchase price and even the mode and manner of payment. Plaintiffs-appellants claim that they were payment for the loan they obtained from the defendants. The latter, on the other hand, claim otherwise. That they were payments for the shares of the plaintiffs-appellants on the subject property they sold to the defendants. The latter, however, failed to show competent proof to establish that there was a perfected contract of sale.

Such being the situation, it [cannot], therefore, be said that a definite and firm sales agreement between the parties had been perfected over the whole property in question. For it is the proof of the concurrence of all the essential elements of the contract of sale which establishes the existence of a perfected sale.

It is very evident that from the beginning to the end, there was no clear and unequivocal intention of the parties as to the sale of the whole properties belonging to the plaintiffs-appellants in dispute. x x x[11]
The CA disposed as follows:

WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The assailed decision of the Regional Trial Court is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Subject property is hereby ordered to be partitioned equally among the plaintiffs- appellants and the defendants.

SO ORDERED. [12]
There being no motion for reconsideration timely filed by any of the parties, the decision of the CA became final and executory. The entry of judgment was made on July 25, 2001.

On March 24, 2003, or almost two years from the entry of judgment of the CA, the petitioners filed an omnibus motion for the reconsideration of the decision promulgated on June 28, 2001 and for the cancellation of the entry of judgment, claiming that they had learned of the decision and the entry of judgment only on March 20, 2003; that they had not been formally notified of the decision because the notice of the judgment had been sent to their former lawyer who had died; and that the notice had been returned unserved.

After the CA denied their omnibus motion on January 28, 2004,[13] the petitioners have come to the Court.

The petitioners now contend that the CA had wrongly ruled that there had been no perfected contract of sale between Napoleon, Sr. and Monserrat, on one hand, and Mildred, Felix and Amada, on the other, respecting the latter's shares in the lots; that there had been a meeting of the minds between the parties as to the price and the subject matter of the sale; that the receipts, particularly Exhibit 2 to Exhibit 10, showed the price of P1,000.00/hectare and the subject matter of the sale that was the half share of Amada in the fishpond located in Buntod, Panay, Capiz; that Exhibit 2 indicated that Amada had acknowledged receipt of the cash advance of the partial payment of her half share from the sale of the fishpond; and that the other receipts had revealed the sale by Mildred and Felix of their respective shares in the fishpond in Buntod, Panay, Capiz for P1,000.00/hectare.

The petitioners assert that the contract of sale had not only been perfected by the meeting of minds, but had been consummated by the partial payment of the purchase price and the delivery of possession to the vendees; that where the price had already been paid, partially or otherwise, or the realty delivered, the contract of sale of realty, even if orally made, was already valid and enforceable; that the absence of a deed of sale did not negate the sale; and that they could compel the vendors to execute the deed of sale upon payment of the full purchase price to enable them to cause the transfer of the title to their names.

The petition for review on certiorari lacks merit.

To start with, the petitioners really seek 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

The only recognized exceptions to the rule on the immutability of judgments are: (a) the correction of clerical errors; (b) the so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party; (c) void judgments; and (d) 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.[18]

This case does not come under any of the exceptions. Although the petitioners insist 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.[19] Their failure to comply with these duties meant that they were negligent in the protection of their cause.[20] 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,[21] 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 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.[22]
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.[23] 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.

WHEREFORE, the Court DENIES the petition for review on certiorari for its lack of merit; and ORDERS the petitioners to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 30-43; penned by Associate Justice Eloy R. Bello. Jr. (retired), with Associate Justices Eugenio S. Labitoria (retired) and Eliezer R. De Los Santos (retired/deceased) concurring.[2] Records, pp. 302-317.
[3] Id. at 12-13.
[4] Id. at 14-15.
[5] Id. at 1-11.
[6] Id. at 27-36.
[7] Id. at 28.
[8] Supra note 2.
[9] Id. at 316-317.
[10] Supra note 1.
[11] Id. at 38-39.
[12] Id. at 43.
[13] Id. at 44.
[14] Pahila-Garrido v. Tortogo, G.R. No. 156358, August 17, 2011, 655 SCRA 553, 558.
[15] Id.
[16] FGU Insurance Corporation v. Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 66, G.R. No. 161282, February 23, 2011, 644 SCRA 50, 56.
[17] Gonzales v. Solid Cement Corporation, G.R. No. 198423, October 23, 2012, 684 SCRA 344, 350-351.
[18] Villa v. Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), G.R. No. 174642, October 30, 2009, 604 SCRA 742, 750.
[19] Mojar v. Agro Commercial Security Service Agency, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 187188, June SCRA 323, 333-334.
[20] Id.
[21] G.R. No. 169091, February 16, 2006, 482 SCRA 562.
[22] Id. at 568.
[23] Supra note 18, at 333.

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