SECOND DIVISION

[A.M. No. RTJ-00-1544. March 15, 2000]

Acting Solicitor General ROMEO DE LA CRUZ, complainant, vs. JUDGE CARLITO A. EISMA, Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City, respondent. francis

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

This is a complaint filed by then Acting Solicitor General Romeo C. de la Cruz against Judge Carlito A. Eisma, Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City for gross ignorance of the law and manifest bias in favor of a party in a case.

The facts are as follows:

In a decision, dated December 8, 1954, the then Court of First Instance of Zamboanga gave judgment in favor of the Republic of the Philippines for the expropriation of 280,885 square meters of land which now form part of the Zamboanga International Airport. Its decision was subsequently affirmed by this Court in Republic v. Garcellano.[1]

It appears, however, that on February 17, 1996, Juanito Ledesma, Arsenio Nuevo, and Aida Ledesma-Nuevo, alleged heirs of Juan Ledesma, one of the defendants in the said expropriation case, forcibly entered the property by destroying the perimeter fence of the airport and thereafter caused a concrete wall to be built separating the property from the rest of the airport. Ledesma, Nuevo, and Ledesma-Nuevo acted on the basis of an allegedly reconstituted title in their names. marie

This prompted the government to file a complaint for forcible entry against Ledesma, Nuevo, and Ledesma-Nuevo. The case was filed in the Metropolitan Trial Court, Zamboanga City, which, however, dismissed the same in its decision dated December 19, 1996. On appeal, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City, reversed the decision. As Ledesma, Nuevo, and Ledesma-Nuevo did not appeal, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City became final.

It appears, however, that Ledesma-Nuevo had filed in the meantime a complaint for accion publiciana, which was raffled and assigned to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City, presided by respondent Judge Carlito A. Eisma. The government moved to dismiss the case invoking res judicata, prematurity, and estoppel, but Judge Eisma did not resolve the motion. Instead, he issued a temporary restraining order, dated November 18, 1997, directing the Metropolitan Trial Court to cease and desist from enforcing the decision in the forcible entry case. Later, he issued a writ of preliminary injunction, dated December 16, 1997, which reads in part: novero

In the case at bar, it is undisputed that by virtue of the Decision in Civil Case No. 357 for Eminent Domain by the then Court of First Instance, herein defendant ATO has been in possession of the property in question. However, it is also undisputed that plaintiffs are likewise in possession of the property. While it may be admitted that plaintiffs physical possession came later than the ATO, because of which the latter filed the ejectment case but surprisingly against only three (3) of herein plaintiffs, it must likewise be admitted that the former have the legal title to the property. Granting, for the sake of argument, that no compensation has yet been made for the property so expropriated, defendant ATOs possession thereof since 1954 did not in any way vest in it the naked ownership over the property. As the Court appropriately stated in the Decision now sought to be enjoined, defendant ATO is only a de facto owner of the property. On the basis of the assumption, it is not at all difficult to hold, as logic and justice dictate, that plaintiffs have a clear and substantial right over the property. To outrightly deny the injunctive relief sought without giving plaintiffs their day in court is to cause them injustice and irreparable injury should this Court later find out they are entitled to the reliefs sought for in the complaint. Upon the other hand, the Government stands to lose nothing by merely preserving the status quo ante. More than anything else, justice will be better served. nigel

Admittedly, the decision in the ejectment case had already become final, hence, executory. However, that it is the ministerial duty of the court to order execution of final and executory judgments admits of certain exception. Quoting Lipana vs. Development Bank of Rizal, 154 SCRA 257, the Supreme Court, in Cruz vs. Leabros, 244 SCRA 194, reiterated that "the rule that once a decision become final and executory, it is the ministerial duty of the court to order its execution, admits of certain exceptions as in the cases of special and exceptional nature where it becomes imperative in the higher interest of justice to direct the suspension of its execution" (Vecine vs. Geronimo, 59 O.G. 579); "whenever it is necessary to accomplish the aims of justice" (Pascual vs. Tan, 85 Phil. 164); or "when certain facts and circumstances transpired after the judgment become final which could render the execution of the judgment unjust" (Cabrias vs. Adil, 135 SCRA 354).

In the present case, the stay of execution is warranted by the facts that plaintiffs claim they are legal owners of the land in question and are occupants thereof. To execute the judgment by ejecting plaintiffs pending determination of their claim would certainly result in injustice, considering that plaintiff Aida Nuevo has already spent much for the relocation of squatters. Moreover, to reiterate, the plaintiffs claim they have not yet been compensated for the land expropriated. Certainly, the Government should not sacrifice justice and the citizens rights in the altar of technicality. Otherwise, the courts are duty-bound to protect. ella

WHEREFORE, on the basis of the foregoing, plaintiffs prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction is hereby GRANTED upon their posting of a bond in the amount of P50,000.00 executed to herein defendants to the effect that the former will pay defendant all damages that it may sustain by reason of the injunction should this Court finally decide they are not entitled thereto.

On certiorari by the government, the Court of Appeals on January 2, 1999 set aside the writ of preliminary injunction issued by Judge Eisma. It held:

The decision of the RTC-Branch 17 of Zamboanga City reversing the dismissal of the forcible entry case in the decision of the City Trial Court of Zamboanga and ruling in favor of the Republic has become final and executory, no appeal having been taken therefrom. To iterate the principal issue: Can a final and executory appellate decision of a regional trial court in an ejectment case be restrained in a separate action for accion publiciana filed before another branch of the regional trial court?

We answer in the negative. marinella

. . . .

Moreover, what is sought to be enjoined in Civil Case No. 1198 (4673) by the respondent RTC is the decision in Civil Case No. 4991 (503) of RTC-Branch 17, Zamboanga City, a co-equal court. No court has the power to interfere by injunction with the judgments or orders of another court of concurrent jurisdiction having the power to grant relief sought by injunction. (PDCP Development Bank v. Vestil, 264 SCRA 467 (1996)). Thus, the issuance by respondent judge of the writ of preliminary injunction is a clear act of interference with the judgment of RTC-Branch 17, Zamboanga City.

In the present case, Acting Solicitor General Romeo C. de la Cruz alleged: (1) that judge Eisma exceeded his authority in enjoining the implementation of the decision in the forcible entry case of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City, which is a sala of co-equal jurisdiction; (2) that even assuming that he has the authority to issue the temporary restraining order and the writ of preliminary injunction directing the Metropolitan Trial Court to cease and desist from enforcing the said decision, he overlooked the rule that except under certain well-defined circumstances, which do not obtain in the instant case, a decision in a forcible entry case is immediately executory; and (3) that Judge Eisma disregarded the rules on res judicata and forum-shopping in not dismissing the complaint for accion publiciana filed by Ledesma-Nuevo. alonzo

In his comment, dated April 21, 1998, Judge Eisma alleged: (1) that the government did not pay just compensation for the subject property; (2) that the said property is not being used for the purpose for which the same was expropriated; (3) that the plaintiffs in the case for accion publiciana are in possession of the property and the title to the same is in their names; and (4) res judicata cannot be invoked for the dismissal of the complaint for accion publiciana because parties are impleaded in the latter case as plaintiffs who were not defendants in the forcible entry case.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), in a report dated January 31, 2000, recommends that Judge Eisma be held guilty of gross ignorance of the law and grave abuse of authority and that he be fined in the amount of P10,000.00 with a warning that the commission of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely. We find the recommendation well taken. brando

First. Pertinent to this case is our ruling in Trinidad v. Cabrera,[2] where the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 32, Quezon City gave judgment for plaintiffs and ordered defendants ejected from the premises. On appeal, the Regional Trail Court affirmed the decision of the Metropolitan Trial Court. The Court of Appeals and this Court denied the petitions for review successively filed by defendants. After entry of judgment, the Metropolitan Trial Court issued a writ of execution. However, defendants filed an injunctive suit in the Regional Trial Court, which then issued an injunction. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a petition for certiorari with this Court. In granting the petition, we reiterated the well-settled rule that the Regional Trial Court cannot impede the execution of the decision of a higher court.

The principle that a court cannot prevent the implementation of a decision of a higher court can also be applied with respect to salas of co-equal jurisdiction. In the instant case, Judge Eisma, as Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City issued at first a temporary restraining order and later a writ of preliminary injunction directing the Metropolitan Trial Court to cease and desist from implementing the decision of Branch 17 of the same court. Although the temporary restraining order and the writ of preliminary injunction were directed at the Metropolitan Trial Court, the same had the ultimate effect of preventing the execution of the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City, a court of equal rank and jurisdiction. Judge Eisma thus exceeded his authority. micks

Second. Under Rule 70, 1 of the Rules of Court, a judgment becomes executory if no appeal is perfected within the reglementary period. Since Ledesma, Nuevo, and Ledesma-Nuevo, defendants in the ejectment case, did not appeal from the decision, dated May 22, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City, the same, therefore, became executory.

It is true that, as an exception to this general rule, execution may be stayed where the implementation of the judgment would lead to injustice in view of a change in the situation of the parties. In his order dated December 16, 1997, Judge Eisma justified the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction on the ground that the government did not pay just compensation for the property; the property was not being used for the purpose for which the same was expropriated; the plaintiffs in the case for accion publiciana were in possession of the property and the titles to the same were in their names; and the case brought by them was not barred by the principle of res judicata because certain parties are impleaded therein as plaintiffs who were not defendants in the forcible entry case. However, the defendants in the ejectment case should have opposed the issuance of a writ of execution by the Metropolitan Trial Court on these grounds, instead of asking the Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City to issue a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction. nigella

With respect to complainants allegation that Judge Eisma disregarded the rules on res judicata and forum-shopping in not dismissing the complaint for accion publiciana, we hold that this issue should be properly raised in a judicial proceeding and not in an administrative case. If indeed Judge Eisma has not resolved the motion to dismiss filed by the government on these grounds, the remedy is a special civil action for mandamus to compel him to rule on the same.

In line with our ruling in PDCP Development Bank v. Vestil,[3] in which a judge was fined of P5,000.00 for interfering with the execution of an order of a court of co-equal jurisdiction, the same penalty should be imposed on Judge Eisma.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Carlito A. Eisma of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Zamboanga City, is found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and abuse of authority and is hereby fined in the amount of P5,000.00 with warning that a commission of the same or similar act in the future will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED. Sc

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1] 103 Phil. 231 (1958).

[2] 12 SCRA 141 (1992).

[3] 264 SCRA 467 (1996).