Republic of the Philippines

SUPREME COURT

Manila

 

FIRST DIVISION

 

 

 

ERIC U. YU,

                      Petitioner,

 

 

         -  versus  -

 

 

HONORABLE JUDGE AGNES REYES-CARPIO, in her official capacity as Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Pasig-Branch 261; and CAROLINE T. YU,

                      Respondents.

 

G.R. No. 189207

 

Present:

 

VELASCO, JR., J.,

      Acting Chairperson,*

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BERSAMIN,**

DEL CASTILLO,

PEREZ, JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

       

June 15, 2011

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

 

VELASCO, JR., J.:

 

 

The Case

 

This is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 which seeks to annul and set aside the March 31, 2009 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 106878. The CA Decision affirmed the Orders dated August 4, 2008[2] and October 24, 2008[3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 261 in Pasig City.

 

The Facts

 

The instant petition stemmed from a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage filed by petitioner Eric U. Yu against private respondent Caroline T. Yu with the RTC in Pasig City.  The case was initially raffled to Branch 163.

 

On May 30, 2006, Judge Leili Cruz Suarez of the RTC-Branch 163 issued an Order, stating that petitioner’s Partial Offer of Evidence dated April 18, 2006 would already be submitted for resolution after certain exhibits of petitioner have been remarked. But the exhibits were only relative to the issue of the nullity of marriage of the parties.[4]

 

On September 12, 2006, private respondent moved to submit the incident on the declaration of nullity of marriage for resolution of the court, considering that the incidents on custody, support, and property relations were mere consequences of the declaration of nullity of the parties’ marriage.[5]

 

On September 28, 2006, petitioner opposed private respondent’s Motion, claiming that the incident on the declaration of nullity of marriage cannot be resolved without the presentation of evidence for the incidents on custody, support, and property relations.[6]  Petitioner, therefore, averred that the incident on nullity of marriage, on the one hand, and the incidents on custody, support, and property relations, on the other, should both proceed and be simultaneously resolved.

 

On March 21, 2007, RTC-Branch 163 issued an Order in favor of petitioner’s opposition.  Particularly, it stated that:

 

The Court agrees with the contention of the Petitioner that it would be more in accord with the rules if the Parties were first allowed to present their evidence relative to the issues of property relations, custody and support to enable the Court to issue a comprehensive decision thereon.[7]

 

 

Subsequently, private respondent was able to successfully cause the inhibition of Judge Cruz Suarez of the RTC-Branch 163.  Consequently, the case was re-raffled to another branch of the Pasig RTC, particularly Branch 261, presided by Judge Agnes Reyes-Carpio.[8]

 

Thereafter, while the case was being heard by the RTC-Branch 261, private respondent filed an Omnibus Motion on May 21, 2008.  The Omnibus Motion sought (1) the strict observation by the RTC-Branch 261 of the Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages, as codified in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, in the subject proceedings; and (2) that the incident on the declaration of nullity of marriage be already submitted for resolution.[9]  Conversely, private respondent prayed that the incident on the declaration of nullity of marriage be resolved ahead of the incidents on custody, support, and property relations, and not simultaneously.

 

Quite expectedly, petitioner opposed the Omnibus Motion, arguing that the issues that were the subject of the Omnibus Motion had already been resolved in the March 21, 2007 Order.  Concurrently, petitioner prayed that the incidents on nullity, custody, support, and property relations of the spouses be resolved simultaneously.[10]

 

In its Order dated August 4, 2008, the RTC-Branch 261 granted the Omnibus Motion.  Judge Reyes-Carpio explained that:

 

At the outset, the parties are reminded that the main cause of action in this case is the declaration of nullity of marriage of the parties and the issues relating to property relations, custody and support are merely ancillary incidents thereto.

 

x x x x

 

Consistent, therefore, with Section 19 of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, the Court finds it more prudent to rule first on the petitioner’s petition and respondent’s counter-petition for declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of each other’s psychological incapacity to perform their respective marital obligations.  If the Court eventually finds that the parties’ respective petitions for declaration of nullity of marriage is indeed meritorious on the basis of either or both of the parties’ psychological incapacity, then the parties shall proceed to comply with Article[s] 50 and 51 of the Family Code before a final decree of absolute nullity of marriage can be issued.  Pending such ruling on the declaration of nullity of the parties’ marriage, the Court finds no legal ground, at this stage, to proceed with the reception of evidence in regard the issues on custody and property relations, since these are mere incidents of the nullity of the parties’ marriage.[11]

 

 

On August, 28, 2008, petitioner moved for the reconsideration of the August 4, 2008 Order.  On October 24, 2008, Judge Reyes-Carpio issued an Order denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration. In denying the motion, Judge Reyes-Carpio reasoned:

 

x x x [I]t is very clear that what petitioner seeks to reconsider in the Court’s Order dated August 4, 2008 is the procedure regarding the reception of evidence on the issues of property relations, custody and support.  He opposes the fact that the main issue on declaration of nullity is submitted for decision when he has not yet presented evidence on the issues on property relations, custody and support.

 

Considering that what he seeks to set aside is the procedural aspect of the instanct case, i.e. the reception of evidence which is a matter of procedure, there is no question that it is A.M. 02-11-[10]-SC which should be followed and not the procedures provided in Articles 50 and 51 of the Family Code.  While it is true that the Family Code is a substantive law and rule of procedure cannot alter a substantive law, the provisions laid in Articles 50 and 51 relative to the liquidation and dissolution of properties are by nature procedural, thus there are no substantive rights which may be prejudiced or any vested rights that may be impaired.

 

In fact, the Supreme Court in a number of cases has even held that there are some provisions of the Family Code which are procedural in nature, such as Article[s] 185 and 50 of the Family Code which may be given retroactive effect to pending suits.  Adopting such rationale in the instant case, if the Court is to adopt the procedures laid down in A.M. No. 02-11-[10]-SC, no vested or substantive right will be impaired on the part of the petitioner or the respondent.  Even Section 17 of A.M. No. 02-11-[10]-SC allows the reception of evidence to a commissioner in matters involving property relations of the spouses.

 

x x x x

 

Lastly, it is the policy of the courts to give effect to both procedural and substantive laws, as complementing each other, in the just and speedy resolution of the dispute between the parties.  Moreover, as previously stated, the Court finds it more prudent to rule first on the petitioner’s petition and respondent’s counter-petition for declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of each other’s psychological incapacity to perform their respective marital obligations.  If the Court eventually finds that the parties’ respective petitions for declaration of nullity of marriage is indeed meritorious on the basis of either or both of the parties’ psychological incapacity, then the parties shall proceed to comply with Article[s] 50 and 51 of the Family Code before a final decree of absolute nullity of marriage can be issued.[12]

 

 

The Ruling of the Appellate Court

 

On January 8, 2009, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 with the CA, assailing both the RTC Orders dated August 4, 2008 and October 24, 2008. The petition impleaded Judge Reyes-Carpio as respondent and alleged that the latter committed grave abuse of discretion in the issuance of the assailed orders.

 

On March 31, 2009, the CA affirmed the judgment of the trial court and dismissed the petition. The dispositive portion of the CA Decision reads:

 

All told, absent any arbitrary or despotic exercise of judicial power as to amount to abuse of discretion on the part of respondent Judge in issuing the assailed Orders, the instant petition for certiorari cannot prosper.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED.

 

SO ORDERED.[13]

 

The Issues

 

This appeal is, hence, before Us, with petitioner maintaining that the CA committed grave abuse of discretion in upholding the assailed orders issued by the trial court and dismissing the Petition for Certiorari.  Particularly, petitioner brings forth the following issues:

 

A.      Whether or not the [CA] committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in holding that a petition for certiorari is not a proper remedy of the Petitioner

 

B.       Whether or not the [CA] committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack [or excess] of jurisdiction in upholding the Respondent Judge in submitting the main issue of nullity of marriage for resolution ahead of the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations

 

C.       Whether or not the reception of evidence on custody, support and property relations is necessary for a complete and comprehensive adjudication of the parties’ respective claims and [defenses].[14]

 

 

The Court’s Ruling

 

We find the petition without merit.

 

A Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 is the proper remedy in assailing that a judge has committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court clearly sets forth when a petition for certiorari can be used as a proper remedy:

 

SECTION 1. Petition for certiorari. – When any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or officer, and granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require. (Emphasis Ours.)

 

 

The term “grave abuse of discretion” has a specific meaning.  An act of a court or tribunal can only be considered as with grave abuse of discretion when such act is done in a “capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.”[15]  The abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an “evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.”[16]  Furthermore, the use of a petition for certiorari is restricted only to “truly extraordinary cases wherein the act of the lower court or quasi-judicial body is wholly void.”[17]  From the foregoing definition, it is clear that the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65 can only strike an act down for having been done with grave abuse of discretion if the petitioner could manifestly show that such act was patent and gross.[18]  But this is not the case here.

 

Nowhere in the petition was it shown that the acts being alleged to have been exercised with grave abuse of discretion––(1) the Orders of the RTC deferring the presentation of evidence on custody, support, and property relations; and (2) the appellate court’s Decision of upholding the Orders––were patent and gross that would warrant striking down through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65.

 

At the very least, petitioner should prove and demonstrate that the RTC Orders and the CA Decision were done in a capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment.[19]  This, however, has not been shown in the petition.

 

It appears in the records that the Orders in question, or what are alleged to have been exercised with grave abuse of discretion, are interlocutory orders.  An interlocutory order is one which “does not finally dispose of the case, and does not end the Court’s task of adjudicating the parties’ contentions and determining their rights and liabilities as regards each other, but obviously indicates that other things remain to be done by the Court.”[20]  To be clear, certiorari under Rule 65 is appropriate to strike down an interlocutory order only when the following requisites concur:

(1) when the tribunal issued such order without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion; and

 

(2) when the assailed interlocutory order is patently erroneous and the remedy of appeal would not afford adequate and expeditious relief.[21]

 

 

In this case, as We have discussed earlier, petitioner failed to prove that the assailed orders were issued with grave abuse of discretion and that those were patently erroneous.  Considering that the requisites that would justify certiorari as an appropriate remedy to assail an interlocutory order have not been complied with, the proper recourse for petitioner should have been an appeal in due course of the judgment of the trial court on the merits, incorporating the grounds for assailing the interlocutory orders.[22]  The appellate court, thus, correctly cited Triplex Enterprises, Inc. v. PNB-Republic Bank and Solid Builders, Inc., penned by Chief Justice Renato Corona, which held:

 

Certiorari as a special civil action is proper when any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion, and there is no appeal nor any plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law. The writ may be issued only where it is convincingly proved that the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion, or an act too patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a duty, or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or act in contemplation of law, or that the trial court exercised its power in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.

 

While certiorari may be maintained as an appropriate remedy to assail an interlocutory order in cases where the tribunal has issued an order without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion, it does not lie to correct every controversial interlocutory ruling. In this connection, we quote with approval the pronouncement of the appellate court:

 

In this jurisdiction, there is an “erroneous impression that interlocutory [orders] of trial courts on debatable legal points may be assailed by certiorari. To correct that impression and to avoid clogging the appellate court with future certiorari petitions it should be underscored that the office of the writ of certiorari has been reduced to the correction of defects of jurisdiction solely and cannot legally be used for any other purpose.”

 

 

The writ of certiorari is restricted to truly extraordinary cases wherein the act of the lower court or quasi-judicial body is wholly void. Moreover, it is designed to correct errors of jurisdiction and not errors in judgment. The rationale of this rule is that, when a court exercises its jurisdiction, an error committed while so engaged does not deprive it of the jurisdiction being exercised when the error is committed. Otherwise, every mistake made by a court will deprive it of its jurisdiction and every erroneous judgment will be a void judgment.

 

When the court has jurisdiction over the case and person of the defendant, any mistake in the application of the law and the appreciation of evidence committed by a court may be corrected only by appeal. The determination made by the trial court regarding the admissibility of evidence is but an exercise of its jurisdiction and whatever fault it may have perpetrated in making such a determination is an error in judgment, not of jurisdiction. Hence, settled is the rule that rulings of the trial court on procedural questions and on admissibility of evidence during the course of a trial are interlocutory in nature and may not be the subject of a separate appeal or review on certiorari. They must be assigned as errors and reviewed in the appeal properly taken from the decision rendered by the trial court on the merits of the case.

 

Here, petitioner assails the order of the trial court disallowing the admission in evidence of the testimony of Roque on the opinion of the OGCC. By that fact alone, no grave abuse of discretion could be imputed to the trial court. Furthermore, the said order was not an error of jurisdiction. Even assuming that it was erroneous, the mistake was an error in judgment not correctable by the writ of certiorari.[23]

 

 

Be that as it may, even dwelling on the merits of the case just as the CA has already done and clearly explicated, We still find no reason to grant the petition.

 

It must be noted that Judge Reyes-Carpio did not disallow the presentation of evidence on the incidents on custody, support, and property relations.  It is clear in the assailed orders that the trial court judge merely deferred the reception of evidence relating to custody, support, and property relations, to wit:

August 4, 2008 Order

 

Consistent, therefore, with Section 19 of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, the Court finds it more prudent to rule first on the petitioner’s petition and respondent’s counter-petition for declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of each other’s psychological incapacity to perform their respective marital obligations.  If the Court eventually finds that the parties’ respective petitions for declaration of nullity of marriage is indeed meritorious on the basis of either or both of the parties’ psychological incapacity, then the parties shall proceed to comply with Article[s] 50 and 51 of the Family Code before a final decree of absolute nullity of marriage can be issued.  Pending such ruling on the declaration of nullity of the parties’ marriage, the Court finds no legal ground, at this stage, to proceed with the reception of evidence in regard the issues on custody and property relations, since these are mere incidents of the nullity of the parties’ marriage.[24]

 

October 24, 2008 Order

 

Lastly, it is the policy of the courts to give effect to both procedural and substantive laws, as complementing each other, in the just and speedy resolution of the dispute between the parties.  Moreover, as previously stated, the Court finds it more prudent to rule first on the petitioner’s petition and respondent’s counter-petition for declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of each other’s psychological incapacity to perform their respective marital obligations.  If the Court eventually finds that the parties’ respective petitions for declaration of nullity of marriage is indeed meritorious on the basis of either or both of the parties’ psychological incapacity, then the parties shall proceed to comply with Article (sic) 50 and 51 of the Family Code before a final decree of absolute nullity of marriage can be issued.[25]

 

 

And the trial judge’s decision was not without basis. Judge Reyes-Carpio finds support in the Court En Banc Resolution in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC or the Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages.  Particularly, Secs. 19 and 21 of the Rule clearly allow the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations after the trial court renders a decision granting the petition, or upon entry of judgment granting the petition:

 

Section 19. Decision. - (1) If the court renders a decision granting the petition, it shall declare therein that the decree of absolute nullity or decree of annulment shall be issued by the court only after compliance with Articles 50 and 51 of the Family Code as implemented under the Rule on Liquidation, Partition and Distribution of Properties.

 

x x x x

 

Section 21. Liquidation, partition and distribution, custody, support of common children and delivery of their presumptive legitimes. - Upon entry of the judgment granting the petition, or, in case of appeal, upon receipt of the entry of judgment of the appellate court granting the petition, the Family Court, on motion of either party, shall proceed with the liquidation, partition and distribution of the properties of the spouses, including custody, support of common children and delivery of their presumptive legitimes pursuant to Articles 50 and 51 of the Family Code unless such matters had been adjudicated in previous judicial proceedings.

 

 

Evidently, Judge Reyes-Carpio did not deny the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations but merely deferred it, based on the existing rules issued by this Court, to a time when a decision granting the petition is already at hand and before a final decree is issued.  Conversely, the trial court, or more particularly the family court, shall proceed with the liquidation, partition and distribution, custody, support of common children, and delivery of their presumptive legitimes upon entry of judgment granting the petition.  And following the pertinent provisions of the Court En Banc Resolution in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, this act is undoubtedly consistent with Articles 50 and 51 of the Family Code, contrary to what petitioner asserts.  Particularly, Arts. 50 and 51 of the Family Code state:

 

Article 50. x x x

 

The final judgment in such cases shall provide for the liquidation, partition and distribution of the properties of the spouses, the custody and support of the common children, and the delivery of their presumptive legitimes, unless such matters had been adjudicated in the previous judicial proceedings.

                       

x x x x

 

Article 51.  In said partition, the value of the presumptive legitimes of all common children, computed as of the date of the final judgment of the trial court, shall be delivered in cash, property or sound securities, unless the parties, by mutual agreement judicially approved, had already provided for such matters. (Emphasis Ours.)

 

 

Finally, petitioner asserts that the deferment of the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations would amount to an ambiguous and fragmentary judgment on the main issue.[26]  This argument does not hold water. The Court En Banc Resolution in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC clearly allows the deferment of the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations.  Conversely, the trial court may receive evidence on the subject incidents after a judgment granting the petition but before the decree of nullity or annulment of marriage is issued.  And this is what Judge Reyes-Carpio sought to comply with in issuing the assailed orders.  As correctly pointed out by the CA, petitioner’s assertion that ruling the main issue without receiving evidence on the subject incidents would result in an ambiguous and fragmentary judgment is certainly speculative and, hence, contravenes the legal presumption that a trial judge can fairly weigh and appraise the evidence submitted by the parties.[27]

 

Therefore, it cannot be said at all that Judge Reyes-Carpio acted in a capricious and whimsical manner, much less in a way that is patently gross and erroneous, when she issued the assailed orders deferring the reception of evidence on custody, support, and property relations.  To reiterate, this decision is left to the trial court’s wisdom and legal soundness.  Consequently, therefore, the CA cannot likewise be said to have committed grave abuse of discretion in upholding the Orders of Judge Reyes-Carpio and in ultimately finding an absence of grave abuse of discretion on her part.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED. The CA Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 106878 finding that Judge Agnes Reyes-Carpio did not commit grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction is AFFIRMED.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

                                                                              

                                                          PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

                                                                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

                 LUCAS P. BERSAMIN                  MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

   Associate Justice                                               Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

                                       Associate Justice

 

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

 

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

                                                                   RENATO C. CORONA

                                                                             Chief Justice

 



* Per Special Order No. 1003 dated June 8, 2011.

** Additional member per Special Order No. 1000 dated June 8, 2011.

[1] Rollo, pp. 32-42. Penned by Associate Justice Magdangal M. De Leon and concurred in by Associate Justices Fernanda Lampas Peralta and Ramon R. Garcia.

[2] Id. at 47-50.

[3] Id. at 51-53.

[4] Id. at 33.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 46.

[8] Id. at 33.

[9] Id. at 34.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 49.

[12] Id. at 52-53. (Emphasis Ours.)

[13] Id. at 41.

[14] Id. at 8.

[15] Beluso v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 180711, June 22, 2010, 621 SCRA 450, 456-457; citing De Vera v. De Vera, G.R. No. 172832, April 7, 2009, 584 SCRA 506, 514-15; Fajardo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 157707, October 29, 2008, 570 SCRA 156, 163.

[16] Id.; 2 Jose Y. Feria & Maria Concepcion S. Noche, Civil Procedure Annotated 463 (2001).

[17] J.L. Bernardo Construction v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 105827, January 31, 2000, 324 SCRA 24, 34.

[18] Beluso v. Commission on Elections, supra note 15.

[19] Id.; Deutsche Bank Manila v. Chua Yok See, G.R. No. 165606, February 6, 2006, 481 SCRA 672, 692.

[20] Philippine Business Bank v. Chua, G.R. No. 178899, November 15, 2010.

[21] J.L. Bernardo Construction v. Court of Appeals, supra note 17, at 34.

[22] Yamaoka v. Pescarich Manufacturing Corporation, G.R. No. 146079, July 20, 2001, 361 SCRA 672, 680-681; citing Go v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128954, October 8, 1998, 297 SCRA 574, 581. See also Deutsche Bank Manila v. Chua Yok See, supra note 19, at 694.

[23] G.R. No. 151007, July 17, 2006, 495 SCRA 362, 365-367. (Emphasis Ours.)

[24] Rollo, p. 49. (Emphasis Ours.)

[25] Id. at 52-53. (Emphasis Ours.)

[26] Id. at 15-16.

[27] Id. at 38; citing Jaylo v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 111502-04, November 22, 2001, 370 SCRA 170.