Substitution by heirs; undeniable violation of due process

THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 236329, April 11, 2018 ] ABSALON A. TUGDANG, AND ALL PERSONS CLAIMING RIGHTS UNDER HIM AS WELL AS AMONG SIMILARLY SITUATED BONAFIDE RESIDENTS V. SPOUSES PEDRO ALORA AND RAFAELA O. ALORA (BOTH DECEASED), SUBSTITUTED BY JOSEFINO O. ALORA.

After a perusal of the records, this Court resolved to deny the petition for review on certiorari filed under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court for failure of the petitioners to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals (CA)[1] committed any reversible error in the assailed Decision and Resolution of the CA dated August 29, 2017 and January 4, 2018, respectively, as to warrant the exercise of the Court's appellate jurisdiction.

Section 6, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court provides that a prevailing party only has five (5) years from the date of entry of judgment to have the same executed by mere motion. After the lapse of such period, the prevailing party should enforce the judgment by reviving the judgment through a complaint in a regular court within ten (10) years from the time the date of entry of judgment was issued, thus:
Sec. 6. Execution by motion or by independent action. A final and executory judgment or order may be executed on motion within five (5) years from the date of its entry. After the lapse of such time, and before it is barred by the statute of limitations, a judgment may be enforced by action. The revived judgment may also be enforced by motion within five (5) years from the date of its entry and thereafter by action before it is barred by the statute of limitations.[2]
In the case at bar, the judgment's date of entry is October 3, 2001. Hence, respondents had five years therefrom or until October 3, 2006 to move for its execution. As the motion for execution was filed on September 26, 2003, well within the five-year period, the action to enforce the execution of the judgment by mere motion has not prescribed.As regards the matter of lack of a formal substitution of the heirs, the Court affirms the ruling of the CA. As a rule, substitution by heirs is not a matter of jurisdiction, but a requirement of due process.[3] Thus, when due process is not violated, as when the right of the representative or heir is recognized and protected, noncompliance or belated formal compliance with the Rules cannot affect the validity of a promulgated decision.[4] Mere failure to substitute for a deceased plaintiff is not a sufficient ground to nullify a trial court's decision.[5] Section 16 of Rule 3, reads:
Section 16. Death of a party; duty of counsel. Whenever a party to a pending action dies, and the claim is not thereby extinguished, it shall be the duty of his counsel to inform the court within thirty (30) days after such death of the fact thereof, and to give the name and address of his legal representative or representatives. Failure of counsel to comply with this duty shall be a ground for disciplinary action.

The heirs of the deceased may be allowed to be substituted for the deceased, without requiring the appointment of an executor or administrator and the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor heirs.

The court shall forthwith order said legal representative or representatives to appear and be substituted within a period of thirty (30) days from notice.

If no legal representative is named by the counsel for the deceased party, or if the one so named shall fail to appear within the specified period, the court may order the opposing party, within a specified time[,] to procure the appointment of an executor or administrator for the estate of the deceased and the latter shall immediately appear for and on behalf of the deceased. The court charges in procuring such appointment, if defrayed by the opposing party, may be recovered as costs.[6]
Here, while there is no formal substitution of the original deceased respondents, the manifestation in respondents' pleading that the original deceased respondents are "now substituted by their heirs" suffices as a substitution. Moreover, there is neither a single allegation nor a strand of proof that there is an undeniable violation of due process.

Anent the non-payment of docket fees, the Court also affirms the ruling of the appellate court. As a rule, failure to pay docket fees within the reglementary period does not result to an automatic dismissal of the complaint. In La Salette College v. Pilotin[7] the Court ruled that the power to dismiss complaints for failure to pay docket fees should be exercised with caution and in accordance with the tenets of justice and fair play, as well as with a great deal of circumspection in consideration of all attendant circumstances. In the case at bar, while respondents manifested that they paid the docket fees, but failed to substantiate such claim, given the present circumstances of the complaint, the Court deems it more judicious to adjudge the case and bring it to its finality, instead of dismissing the same on amere technicality. As enunciated by the CA, "[w]e deem it better to set any unpaid docket fees that may be due and owing from respondent as a lien on the judgment award, instead of dismissing the complaint, if only to bring finality to the controversy before Us."[8]

Finally, the Court rejects the argument that a survey plan is a jurisdictional requirement to an accion publiciana complaint. First, this issue deserves scant consideration because it was raised only for the first time on appeal in petitioners' motion for reconsideration before the CA.[9] Settled is the rule that litigants cannot raise an issue for the first time on appeal as this would contravene the basic rules of fair play and justice.[10] Assuming that it is a jurisdictional issue which may be raised even on appeal, still, the Court finds no merit in petitioners' contention. As correctly held by the CA, the records reveal that the identity of the property can be resolved by mere review of the records. Attached to the complaint is the title containing the description of the subject property, making it an integral part of the complaint. Contrary to the position of petitioners, no survey plan or whatsoever is needed to clarify the identity of the disputed property.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals dated August 29, 2017 and January 4, 2018, respectively are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp.75-82 and 70-73; penned by Associate Justice Zenaida T. Galapate-Laguilles with Associate Justices Magdangal M. De Leon and Franchito N. Diamante, concurring.

[2] RULES OF COURT, Rule 39, Sec. 6.

[3] Spouses De La Cruz v. Joaquin, 502Phil, 803, 811 (2005).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] RULES OF COURT, Rule 3, Sec. 16.

[7] 463 Phil. 785, 794 (2003).

[8] Rollo, p. 81.

[9] S.C. Megaworld Construction, et al. vParada, 717 Phil. 752, 760 (2013).

[10] Id.

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