G.R. No. 195472. Jan 8, 2018

THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 195472, January 08, 2018 ] SAMSON LIM BIO HIAN, PETITIONER, VS. JOAQUIN LIM ENG TIAN, RESPONDENT. [G.R. No. 195568] JOHNSON LIM BIO TIONG, PETITIONER, VS. JOAQUIN LIM ENG TIAN, RESPONDENT. RESOLUTION. MARTIRES, J.:

These consolidated petitions for review on certiorari seek to reverse and set aside the Decision,[1] dated 26 July 2010, and Resolution,[2] dated 9 February 2011, of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 111248 which nullified the Orders,[3] dated 13 March 2009 and 17 August 2009, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 258, ParaƱaque City (RTC), in Civil Case No. 08-0246, an action for partition.

THE FACTS

The petitioners Samson Lim Bio Tian (Samson) and Johnson Lim Bio Tiong (Johnson) and respondent Joaquin Lim Eng Tian (Joaquin) are co-owners of a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 81239. Respondent wanted to have the said land partitioned but the petitioners refused to heed his demand, thus, he filed a complaint for partition.

Summons and copies of the complaint were served upon the petitioners who, in turn, filed their respective pleadings. After the issues were joined, the RTC set the case for pre-trial conference on 8 December 2008. Notices were sent to the parties and their respective counsels.

When the case was called for pre-trial on 8 December 2008, only Joaquin and Johnson and their respective counsels appeared. However, Johnson filed his pre-trial brief only on that day. Samson and his counsel also failed to appear. Thus, the RTC issued an order,[4] dated 8 December 2008, wherein it ruled that both petitioners failed to file a pre-trial brief. Joaquin was thus allowed to submit his evidence ex parte.

On 18 December 2008, Samson moved for reconsideration of the RTC's 8 December 2008 order. He averred that the non-appearance of his counsel during the pre-trial should be excused as the latter was busy attending a seminar in Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). He did not, however, offer any reason for his own failure to appear. Johnson also filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that he and his counsel decided to submit personally his pre-trial brief on the pre-trial date instead of by mail because they were apprehensive that the court would not receive it on time.

On 13 March 2009, the RTC issued the first assailed order granting the petitioners' motions. The fallo reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion[s] for Reconsideration filed by defendants, Samson Lim and Johnson Lim are GRANTED and movants are allowed to cross-examine plaintiff, Joaquin Lim Eng Lian, and the Pre-Trial Bried submitted by defendants-movants are ADMITTED.

Meanwhile, let the cross-examination of plaintiff be set on May 4, 2009 at 8:30 in the morning.

Notify the parties and their counsel.[5] (emphasis in the original)
Joaquin moved for reconsideration but the same was denied by the RTC in an order, dated 17 August 2009. Aggrieved, Joaquin filed a petition for certiorari before the CA.

The CA Ruling

In its 26 July 2010 decision, the CA nullified the orders of the RTC. It observed that Samson did not bother to offer any excuse for his non-appearance during the pre-trial conference nor for not filing a pre-trial brief. The appellate court added that Johnson's excuse that he opted to personally file his Brief on the date set for pre-trial instead of filing it by mail, because he did not rely on the mail service, was flimsy and could not be given credence. It opined that the rule on liberal construction was not a license to disregard the rules of procedure because like all rules, they are to be followed except only for the most persuasive of reasons. The CA concluded that the RTC acted with grave abuse of discretion in allowing the petitioners to cross-examine Joaquin and to file a pre-trial brief; because the petitioners had clearly failed to show that their failure to attend the pre-trial conference and to file a pre-trial brief was due to fraud, accident, mistake or excusable neglect.

The petitioners moved for reconsideration but were denied by the CA in a resolution, dated 9 February 2011. Undeterred, the petitioners filed a petition for review before this Court.Meanwhile, on 21 February 2013, the RTC rendered a decision[6] in the action for partition and ruled that respondent, as co-owner of the parcel of land, was entitled to demand its partition. Thereafter, the trial court denied the petitioners' notice of appeal because it was filed out of time. The decision of the RTC was affirmed by the CA[7] and on 15 December 2016, the CA judgment became final and executory.[8]

ISSUE
WHETHER THIS PETITION PRESENTS A JUSTICIABLE CONTROVERSY AFTER THE DECISION ON THE ACTION FOR PARTITION HAS ALREADY BECOME FINAL AND EXECUTORY.
OUR RULING

The existence of an actual case or controversy is a necessary condition precedent to the court's exercise of its power of adjudication. An actual case or controversy exists when there is a conflict of legal rights or an assertion of opposite legal claims between the parties that is susceptible or ripe for judicial resolution. In the negative, a justiciable controversy must neither be conjectural nor moot and academic. There must be a definite and concrete dispute touching on the legal relations of the parties who have adverse legal interests. The reason is that the issue ceases to be justiciable when a controversy becomes moot and academic; otherwise, the court would engage in rendering an advisory opinion on what the law would be upon a hypothetical state of facts.[9]

A case becomes moot and academic when, by virtue of supervening events, the conflicting issue that may be resolved by the court ceases to exist.[10] While it is true that this court may assume jurisdiction over a case that has been rendered moot and academic by supervening events, the following instances must be present:
(1)
Grave constitutional violations;
(2)
Exceptional character of the case;
(3)
Paramount public interest;
(4)
The case presents an opportunity to guide the bench, the bar, and the public; or
(5)
The case is capable of repetition yet evading review.[11]
None of these circumstances is present in this case. It must be noted that the petition for certiorari to assail the decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 133267 was dismissed by the CA in a decision, dated 31 March 2016.[12] Entry of Judgment was thus effected on 15 December 2016.[13] Moreover, the RTC had already issued a writ of execution, which implementation was held in abeyance upon motion of the petitioners who conveniently used the pendency of this petition as a ground therefor. Consequently, the issue raised in this petition was rendered moot and academic by the final and executory decision in the main action for partition.

To explain further, the question presented in this petition is merely procedural, i.e., whether the defendant may be allowed to cross-examine the plaintiff after the trial court had allowed the latter to present his evidence ex parte. It is axiomatic in this jurisdiction that where a decision on the merits of a case is rendered and the same has become final and executory, the action on procedural matters or issues is thereby rendered moot and academic. Inarguably, an adjudication of the procedural issue presented for resolution would be a futile exercise.[14]

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for being moot and academic.

SO ORDERED.

Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Bersamin, Leonen, and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.


[1] Rollo (G.R. No. 195472), pp. 15-25; penned by Associate Justice Normandie B. Pizarro, and concurred in by Associate Justices Amelita G. Tolentino and Ruben C. Ayson.

[2] Id. at 27-29.

[3] Records Vol. I, pp. 293-295 and 355-356.

[4] Id. at 135-136.

[5] Id. at 292.

[6] Records, Vol. III, pp. 780-783.

[7] Records, Vol. IV, pp. 1162-1169.

[8] Id. at 1192.

[9] Reyes v. Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd., 731 Phil. 155, 160 (2014).

[10] Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary Reyes, 466 Phil. 482, 505 (2004).

[11] Republic v. Moldex Realty, Inc., G.R. No. 171041, 10 February 2016, 783 SCRA 414, 422-423.

[12] Records, Vol. IV, pp. 1162-1169.

[13] Id. at 1192.

[14] Go v. Tabanda, 272-A Phil. 122, 126 (1991).

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