Parties in Las Piñas land dispute rue retiring justice’s decision
In the other half of his May 9 column titled “With starkly contrasting results,” former chief justice Artemio Panganiban paid advance tribute to Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, who is due to retire from the Supreme Court on May 14: “True … she favored the interment of Ferdinand Marcos’ remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani … [Nevertheless,] she … radiated the majesty, scholarship, elegance, and uprightness of her storied judicial journey comparable in all respects, in pari materia, with the first three lady-justices of the Court, Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, and Carolina Griño-Aquino.” (But, curiously, would any of those morally upright lady magistrates have favored a “hero’s burial” for Marcos?)
With all due respect, Justice Bernabe may well be remembered by the aggrieved parties to a case where she penned a decision that went over the guardrail set by well-settled jurisprudence: Being coequal, no branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) can interfere with, much less review, alter, modify, or annul, the judgment of another branch of the RTC. This is an elementary doctrine learned by all lawyers since law school, and steadfast adherence thereto has remained to this day. It was deemed a red line no judge or justice should cross.
Succinctly, the facts of the case (G.R. No. 179155) were as follows: A land registration case involving land situated in Las Piñas (LP) was allowed by the Supreme Court to be tried at a Makati (MK) RTC branch since there were no RTC branches in LP then. The MK-RTC branch eventually rendered a decision, which became final and executory. As soon as LP got its share of RTC branches set up, a petition for review was filed there, out of the blue, by a party who claimed he owned part of the land in question. Our vigorous objections were peremptorily ignored. Eventually, the LP-RTC branch rendered a decision setting aside (annulling) the decision rendered by the MK-RTC branch. Resorting to the Court of Appeals proved unavailing.
In due course, the case reached the Supreme Court, raising the same primary objection and many more. Justice Bernabe wrote the decision: “The filing of the petition for review before the Las Piñas City-RTC was but a rectificatory implementation of the rules of procedure then-existing, which was (sic) set back only because of past exigencies,” i.e., the case should have been filed in LP in the first place since the land was located there under the rules then-prevailing.
We argued it was a grave error to turn a time-tested doctrine on its head. We sincerely found it hard to wrap our mind around Justice Bernabe’s ratiocination that deviated from a principle of law etched on granite since time immemorial. From where we stood, what seemed to have happened was, the Supreme Court totally forgot to order the remand of all land registration cases involving lands in LP, which it previously allowed to be heard outside of LP to the LP-RTC branches when they were already set up and where those cases properly belonged.
In our defense, it was our earnest submission from the very start that the petition for review (i.e., for annulment) of the decision should have been lodged in the MK-RTC branch that rendered it. And not having been filed in the “proper court” within the reglementary period, that petition should have been dismissed outright. The heretical spectacle of one RTC branch trashing the decision of another RTC branch, to the discombobulation of law students and practitioners alike, might have been avoided.
Stephen L. Monsanto,[email protected]
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