G.R. No. 176015
MERCEDITA T. GUASCH
ARNALDO DELA CRUZ
Respondent Arnaldo dela Cruz (respondent) filed a Complaint-Affidavit against petitioner Mercedita T. Guasch (petitioner) with the City Prosecutor of Manila. On several occasions, petitioner transacted business with him by exchanging cash for checks of small amount without interest.
On July 26, 1999, petitioner went to his residence requesting him to exchange her check with cash of P3,300,000.00. Initially, he refused. However, petitioner returned the next day and was able to convince him to give her P3,300,000.00 in cash in exchange for her Insular Savings Bank Check No. 0032082 dated January 31, 2000 upon her assurance that she will have the funds and bank deposit to cover the said check by January 2000. On the date of maturity and upon presentment, however, the check was dishonored for the reason that the account against which it was drawn was already closed.
An information for estafa was filed against the petitioner.
After petitioner entered her plea of not guilty and after the prosecution rested its case, petitioner filed a Motion with Leave to Admit Demurrer to Evidence with attached Demurrer to Evidence. The trial court issued an Order dated June 16, 2005 granting the demurrer to evidence and dismissing the case.
The trial court found that respondent’s assertion of misrepresentation by petitioner that her check will be fully funded on the maturity date was not supported by the evidence on record. Accordingly, her guilt not having been proven beyond reasonable doubt, petitioner was acquitted.
On June 28, 2005, respondent received a copy of the said order. On July 14, 2005, respondent filed a Manifestation with attached Motion to Amend Order dated June 16, 2005 (Motion to Amend) to include a finding of civil liability of petitioner. Respondents counsel justified his failure to file the motion within the reglementary period of 15 days because all postal offices in Metro Manila were allegedly ordered closed in the afternoon due to the rally staged on Ayala Avenue.
Meantime, on August 30, 2005, respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals praying that the trial courts Order dated June 16, 2005 granting the demurrer to evidence be set aside. The trial court denied respondents Motion to Amend in its Order dated September 20, 2005 finding that counsel for respondent was inexcusably negligent; Respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration but the same was denied by the trial court.
On December 7, 2005, respondent filed a Notice of Appeal informing the trial court that he was appealing the Order but it was likewise denied.
Consequently, on February 13, 2006, respondent filed a Supplemental Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals to set aside the Orders.
The Court of Appeals rendered the assailed Decision. On the issue of whether the issuance of the Order dated June 16, 2005 granting the demurrer to evidence was made with grave abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeals ruled in the negative as it found that the trial court did not anchor the acquittal of petitioner on evidence other than that presented by the prosecution as contended by petitioner. On the issue of whether the denial of respondents Motion to Amend was tainted with grave abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeals ruled in the affirmative. Motion to Amend Order dated 16 June 2005 is hereby SET ASIDE.
Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion when it denied respondents Motion to Amend.
As a general rule, the statutory requirement that when no motion for reconsideration is filed within the reglementary period, the decision attains finality and becomes executory in due course must be strictly enforced as they are considered indispensable interdictions against needless delays and for orderly discharge of judicial business. The purposes for such statutory requirement are twofold: first, to avoid delay in the administration of justice and thus, procedurally, to make orderly the discharge of judicial business, and, second, to put an end to judicial controversies, at the risk of occasional errors, which are precisely why courts exist. Controversies cannot drag on indefinitely. The rights and obligations of every litigant must not hang in suspense for an indefinite period of time.
However, in exceptional cases, substantial justice and equity considerations warrant the giving of due course to an appeal by suspending the enforcement of statutory and mandatory rules of procedure. Certain elements are considered for the appeal to be given due course, such as: (1) the existence of special or compelling circumstances, (2) the merits of the case, (3) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules, (4) lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory, and (5) the other party will not be unduly prejudiced thereby.
Several of these elements obtain in the case at bar.
First, there is ostensible merit to respondents cause. The records show that petitioner admits her civil obligation to respondent. Respondent did not waive, reserve, nor institute a civil action for the recovery of civil liability. Hence, since the civil action is deemed instituted with the criminal action, the trial court was duty-bound to determine the civil liability.
Second, it cannot be said that petitioner will be unduly prejudiced if respondents Motion to Amend for the sole purpose of including the civil liability of petitioner in the order of acquittal shall be allowed. Respondent concededly has an available remedy even if his Motion to Amend was denied, which is to institute a separate civil action to recover petitioners civil liability. However, to require him to pursue this remedy at this stage will only prolong the litigation between the parties which negates the avowed purpose of the strict enforcement of reglementary periods to appeal, that is, to put an end to judicial controversies.
It is a cherished rule of procedure that a court should always strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding leaving no root or branch to bear the seeds of future litigation. Given the circumstances in this case, we find that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion when it denied respondents Motion to Amend.