THIRD DIVISIONG.R. No. 107271 September 10, 2003
CITY OF CALOOCAN and NORMA M. ABRACIA, petitioners,
HON. MAURO T. ALLARDE, Presiding Judge of Branch 123, RTC of Caloocan City, ALBERTO A. CASTILLO, Deputy Sheriff of Branch 123, RTC of Caloocan City, and DELFINA HERNANDEZ SANTIAGO and PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK (PNB), respondents.
Assailed in this petition for certiorari is the decision1 dated August 31, 1992, of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. SP No. 27423, ordering the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City, Branch 123, to implement an alias writ of execution dated January 16, 1992. The dispositive portion read as follows:
WHEREFORE the petition is hereby granted ordering the Regional Trial Court of Kaloocan City, Branch 123, to immediately effect the alias writ of execution dated January 16, 1992 without further delay.
Counsel for the respondents are warned that a repetition of their contemptuous act to delay the execution of a final and executory judgment will be dealt with more severely.
It is important to state at the outset that the dispute between petitioner and private respondent has been litigated thrice before this Court: first, in G.R. No. L-39288-89, entitled Heirs of Abelardo Palomique, et al. vs. Marcial Samson, et al., decided on January 31, 1985; second, in G.R. No. 98366, entitled City Government of Caloocan vs. Court of Appeals, et al., resolved on May 16, 1991, and third, in G.R. No. 102625, entitled Santiago vs. Sto. Tomas, et al., decided on August 1, 1995. This is not to mention the numerous concurrent efforts by the City Government of Caloocan to seek relief from other judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. The present petition for certiorari is the fourth time we are called upon to resolve the dispute.
The factual and procedural antecedents follow.
Sometime in 1972, Marcial Samson, City Mayor of Caloocan City, through Ordinance No. 1749, abolished the position of Assistant City Administrator and 17 other positions from the plantilla of the local government of Caloocan. Then Assistant City Administrator Delfina Hernandez Santiago and the 17 affected employees of the City Government assailed the legality of the abolition before the then Court of First Instance (CFI) of Caloocan City, Branch 33.
In 1973, the CFI declared the abolition illegal and ordered the reinstatement of all the dismissed employees and the payment of their back salaries and other emoluments. The City Government of Caloocan appealed to the Court of Appeals. Respondent Santiago and her co-parties moved for the dismissal of the appeal for being dilatory and frivolous but the appellate court denied their motion. Thus, they elevated the case on certiorari before this Court, docketed as G.R. No. L-39288-89, Heirs of Abelardo Palomique, et al. vs. Marcial Samson, et al. In our Resolution dated January 31, 1985, we held that the appellate court "erred in not dismissing the appeal," and "that the appeal of the City Government of Caloocan was frivolous and dilatory." In due time, the resolution lapsed into finality and entry of judgment was made on February 27, 1985.
In 1986, the City Government of Caloocan paid respondent Santiago
P75,083.37 in partial payment of her backwages, thereby leaving a balance of P530,761.91. Her co-parties were paid in full.3
In 1987, the City of Caloocan appropriated funds for her unpaid back
salaries. This was included in Supplemental Budget No. 3 for the fiscal
year 1987. Surprisingly, however, the City later refused to release the
money to respondent Santiago.
Respondent Santiago exerted effort for the execution of the remainder of the money judgment but she met stiff opposition from the City Government of Caloocan. On February 12, 1991, Judge Mauro T. Allarde, RTC of Caloocan City, Branch 123, issued a writ of execution for the payment of the remainder of respondent Santiago’s back salaries and other emoluments.4
For the second time, the City Government of Caloocan went up to the Court of Appeals and filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and injunction to stop the trial court from enforcing the writ of execution. The CA dismissed the petition and affirmed the order of issuance of the writ of execution.5 One of the issues raised and resolved therein was the extent to which back salaries and emoluments were due to respondent Santiago. The appellate court held that she was entitled to her salaries from October, 1983 to December, 1986.
And for the second time, the City Government of Caloocan appealed to this Court in G.R. No. 98366, City Government of Caloocan vs. Court of Appeals, et al. The petition was dismissed, through our Resolution of May 16, 1991, for having been filed late and for failure to show any reversible error on the part of the Court of Appeals. The resolution subsequently attained finality and the corresponding entry of judgment was made on July 29, 1991.
On motion of private respondent Santiago, Judge Mauro T. Allarde ordered the issuance of an alias writ of execution on March 3, 1992. The City Government of Caloocan moved to reconsider the order, insisting in the main that respondent Santiago was not entitled to backwages from 1983 to 1986. The court a quo denied the motion and forthwith issued the alias writ of execution. Unfazed, the City Government of Caloocan filed a motion to quash the writ, maintaining that the money judgment sought to be enforced should not have included salaries and allowances for the years 1983-1986. The trial court likewise denied the motion.
On July 27, 1992, Sheriff Alberto A. Castillo levied and sold at public auction one of the motor vehicles of the City Government of Caloocan, with plate no. SBH-165, for
The proceeds of the sale were turned over to respondent Santiago in
partial satisfaction of her claim, thereby leaving a balance of P439,377.14,
inclusive of interest. Petitioners filed a motion questioning the
validity of the auction sale of the vehicle with plate no. SBH-165, and a
supplemental motion maintaining that the properties of the municipality
were exempt from execution. In his Order dated October 1, 1992, Judge
Allarde denied both motions and directed the sheriff to levy and
schedule at public auction three more vehicles of the City of Caloocan -6</p>
ONE (1) Unit Motor Vehicle (Hunter Station Wagon); Motor No. C-240-199629; Chassis No. MBB-910369C;
ONE (1) Unit Motor Vehicle (Hunter Series 11-Diesel); Engine No. 4FB1-174328, Chassis No. MBB-910345C; Plate No. SDL-653;
ONE (1) Unit Motor Vehicle (Hunter Series 11-Diesel); Engine No. 4FB-165196; Chassis No. MBB 910349C.
All the vehicles, including that previously sold in the auction sale, were owned by the City and assigned for the use of herein petitioner Norma Abracia, Division Superintendent of Caloocan City, and other officials of the Division of City Schools.
Meanwhile, the City Government of Caloocan sought clarification from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on whether respondent Santiago was considered to have rendered services from 1983-1986 as to be entitled to backwages for that period. In its Resolution No. 91-1124, the CSC ruled in the negative.
On November 22, 1991, private respondent Santiago challenged the CSC resolution before this Court in G.R. No. 102625, Santiago vs. Sto. Tomas, et al. On July 8, 1993, we initially dismissed the petition for lack of merit; however, we reconsidered the dismissal of the petition in our Resolution dated August 1, 1995, this time ruling in favor of respondent Santiago:
The issue of petitioner Santiago’s right to back salaries for the period from October 1983 to December 1986 having been resolved in G.R. No. 98366 on 16 May 1991, CSC Resolution No. 91-1124 promulgated later on 24 September 1991 – in particular, its ruling on the extent of backwages due petitioner Santiago – was in fact moot and academic at the time of its promulgation. CSC Resolution No. 91-1124 could not, of course, set aside what had been judicially decided with finality x x x x the court considers that resort by the City Government of Caloocan to respondent CSC was but another attempt to deprive petitioner Santiago of her claim to back salaries x x x and a continuation of the City’s abuse and misuse of the rules of judicial procedure. The City’s acts have resulted in wasting the precious time and resources of the courts and respondent CSC. (Underscoring supplied).
On October 5, 1992, the City Council of Caloocan passed Ordinance No. 0134, Series of 1992, which included the amount of
P439,377.14 claimed by respondent Santiago as back salaries, plus interest.7 Pursuant to the subject ordinance, Judge Allarde issued an order dated November 10, 1992, decreeing that:
WHEREFORE, the City Treasurer (of Caloocan), Norberto Azarcon is hereby ordered to deliver to this Court within five (5) days from receipt hereof, (a) manager’s check covering the amount of
representing the back salaries of petitioner Delfina H. Santiago in
accordance with Ordinance No. 0134 S. 1992 and pursuant to the final and
executory decision in these cases.
Then Caloocan Mayor Macario A. Asistio, Jr., however, refused to sign the check intended as payment for respondent Santiago’s claims. This, despite the fact that he was one of the signatories of the ordinance authorizing such payment. On April 29, 1993, Judge Allarde issued another order directing the Acting City Mayor of Caloocan, Reynaldo O. Malonzo, to sign the check which had been pending before the Office of the Mayor since December 11, 1992. Acting City Mayor Malonzo informed the trial court that "he could not comply with the order since the subject check was not formally turned over to him by the City Mayor" who went on official leave of absence on April 15, 1993, and that "he doubted whether he had authority to sign the same."8
Thus, in an order dated May 7, 1993, Judge Allarde ordered Sheriff Alberto A. Castillo to immediately garnish the funds of the City Government of Caloocan corresponding to the claim of respondent Santiago.9 On the same day, Sheriff Alberto A. Castillo served a copy of the Notice of Garnishment on the Philippine National Bank (PNB), Sangandaan Branch, Caloocan City. When PNB immediately notified the City of Caloocan of the Notice of Garnishment, the City Treasurer sent a letter-advice informing PNB that the order of garnishment was "illegal," with a warning that it would hold PNB liable for any damages which may be caused by the withholding of the funds of the city. PNB opted to comply with the order of Judge Allarde and released to the Sheriff a manager’s check amounting to
P439,378. After 21 long years, the claim of private respondent Santiago was finally settled in full.
On June 4, 1993, however, while the instant petition was pending, the City Government of Caloocan filed yet another motion with this Court, a Motion to Declare in Contempt of Court; to Set Aside the Garnishment and Administrative Complaint against Judge Allarde, respondent Santiago and PNB. Subsequently, the City Government of Caloocan filed a Supplemental Petition formally impleading PNB as a party-respondent in this case.
The instant petition for certiorari is directed this time against the validity of the garnishment of the funds of the City of Caloocan, as well as the validity of the levy and sale of the motor vehicles belonging to the City of Caloocan. More specifically, petitioners insist that Judge Allarde gravely abused his discretion in:
(a) ordering the garnishment of the funds of the City of Caloocan deposited with the PNB, since it is settled that public funds are beyond the reach of garnishment and even with the appropriation passed by the City Council, the authority of the Mayor is still needed for the release of the appropriation;
(b) ordering the levy and sale at public auction of three (3) motor vehicles owned by the City of Caloocan, which vehicles are necessary for public use and cannot be attached nor sold in an execution sale to satisfy a money judgment against the City of Caloocan;
(c) peremptorily denying petitioner City of Caloocan’s urgent motions to vacate and set aside the auction sale of the motor vehicle with PLATE NO. SBH-165, notwithstanding that the auction sale by the Sheriff was tainted with serious irregularities, more particularly:
i. non-compliance with the mandatory posting of the notice of sale;
ii. non-observance of the procedure that a sale through public auction has to be made and consummated at the time of the auction, at the designated place and upon actual payment of the purchase price by the winning bidder;
iii. violation of Sec. 21, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court to the effect that sale of personal property capable of manual delivery ‘must be sold within the view of those attending the sale;’ and,
iv. the Sheriff’s Certificate of Sale contained false narration of facts respecting the actual time of the public auction;
(d) the enforcement of the levy made by the Sheriff covering the three (3) motor vehicles based on an alias writ that has long expired.
The petition has absolutely no merit. The trial court committed no grave abuse of discretion in implementing the alias writ of execution to settle the claim of respondent Santiago, the satisfaction of which petitioner had been maliciously evading for 21 years.
Petitioner argues that the garnishment of its funds in PNB was invalid inasmuch as these were public funds and thus exempt from execution. Garnishment is considered a specie of attachment by means of which the plaintiff seeks to subject to his claim property of the defendant in the hands of a third person, or money owed by such third person or garnishee to the defendant.10
The rule is and has always been that all government funds deposited in the PNB or any other official depositary of the Philippine Government by any of its agencies or instrumentalities, whether by general or special deposit, remain government funds and may not be subject to garnishment or levy, in the absence of a corresponding appropriation as required by law:11
Even though the rule as to immunity of a state from suit is relaxed, the power of the courts ends when the judgment is rendered. Although the liability of the state has been judicially ascertained, the state is at liberty to determine for itself whether to pay the judgment or not, and execution cannot issue on a judgment against the state. Such statutes do not authorize a seizure of state property to satisfy judgments recovered, and only convey an implication that the legislature will recognize such judgment as final and make provision for the satisfaction thereof.12
The rule is based on obvious considerations of public policy. The functions and public services rendered by the State cannot be allowed to be paralyzed or disrupted by the diversion of public funds from their legitimate and specific objects, as appropriated by law.13
However, the rule is not absolute and admits of a well-defined exception, that is, when there is a corresponding appropriation as required by law. Otherwise stated, the rule on the immunity of public funds from seizure or garnishment does not apply where the funds sought to be levied under execution are already allocated by law specifically for the satisfaction of the money judgment against the government. In such a case, the monetary judgment may be legally enforced by judicial processes.
Thus, in the similar case of Pasay City Government, et al. vs. CFI of Manila, Br. X, et al.,14 where petitioners challenged the trial court’s order garnishing its funds in payment of the contract price for the construction of the City Hall, we ruled that, while government funds deposited in the PNB are exempt from execution or garnishment, this rule does not apply if an ordinance has already been enacted for the payment of the City’s obligations –
Upon the issuance of the writ of execution, the petitioner-appellants moved for its quashal alleging among other things the exemption of the government from execution. This move on the part of petitioner-appellants is at first glance laudable for ‘all government funds deposited with the Philippine National Bank by any agency or instrumentality of the government, whether by way of general or special deposit, remain government funds and may not be subject to garnishment or levy.’ But inasmuch as an ordinance has already been enacted expressly appropriating the amount of
P613,096.00 as payment to the respondent-appellee, then the herein case is covered by the exception to the general rule x x x x
In the instant case, the City Council of Caloocan already approved and passed Ordinance No. 0134, Series of 1992, allocating the amount of
P439,377.14 for respondent
Santiago’s back salaries plus interest. Thus this case fell squarely
within the exception. For all intents and purposes, Ordinance No. 0134,
Series of 1992, was the "corresponding appropriation as required by
law." The sum indicated in the ordinance for Santiago were deemed
automatically segregated from the other budgetary allocations of the
City of Caloocan and earmarked solely for the City’s monetary obligation
to her. The judgment of the trial court could then be validly enforced
against such funds.
Indeed, this conclusion is further buttressed by the Certification issued on December 23, 1992 by Norberto C. Azarcon, City Treasurer of Caloocan:
This is to certify that according to the records available in this Office the claim for backwages of the HON. JUDGE DELFINA H. SANTIAGO has been properly obligated and can be collected in accordance with existing accounting and auditing rules and regulations.
This is to certify further that in case the claim is not collected within the present fiscal year, such claim shall be entered in the books of Accounts Payable and can still be collected in the next fiscal year x x x x (Underscoring supplied)
Petitioners’ reliance on Municipality of Makati vs. Court of Appeals, et al.,15 and Commissioner of Public Highways vs. San Diego,16 does not help their cause.17 Both cases implicitly affirmed that public funds may be garnished if there is a statute which appropriated the amount so garnished. Thus, in Municipality of Makati, citing San Diego, we unequivocally held that:
In this jurisdiction, well-settled is the rule that public funds are not subject to levy and execution, unless otherwise provided by statute x x x x
Similarly, we cannot agree with petitioner’s argument that the appropriation ordinance of the City Council did not authorize PNB to release the funds because only the City Mayor could authorize the release thereof. A valid appropriation of public funds lifts its exemption from execution. Here, the appropriation passed by the City Council of Caloocan providing for the payment of backwages to respondent was duly approved and signed by both the council and then Mayor Macario Asistio, Jr. The mayor’s signature approving the budget ordinance was his assent to the appropriation of funds for respondent Santiago’s backwages. If he did not agree with such allocation, he could have vetoed the item pursuant to Section 55 of the Local Government Code.18 There was no such veto.
In view of the foregoing discourse, we dismiss petitioners’ unfounded assertion, probably made more out of sheer ignorance of prevailing jurisprudence than a deliberate attempt to mislead us, that the rule that "public funds (are) beyond the reach of levy and garnishment is not qualified by any condition."19
We now come to the issue of the legality of the levy on the three motor vehicles belonging to the City of Caloocan which petitioners claimed to be exempt from execution, and which levy was based on an alias writ that had purportedly expired. Suffice it to say that Judge Allarde, in his Order dated November 10, 1992,20 already lifted the levy on the three vehicles, thereby formally discharging them from the jurisdiction of the court and turning them over to the City Government of Caloocan:
x x x x the levy of the three (3) vehicles made by Sheriff Alberto Castillo pursuant to the Orders of this Court dated October 1 and 8, 1992 is hereby lifted and the said Sheriff is hereby ordered to return the same to the City Government in view of the satisfaction of the decision in these cases x x x x
It is thus unnecessary for us to discuss a moot issue.
We turn to the third issue raised by petitioners that the auction sale by Sheriff Alberto A. Castillo of the motor vehicle with plate no. SBH-165 was tainted with serious irregularities. We need not emphasize that the sheriff enjoys the presumption of regularity in the performance of the functions of his office. This presumption prevails in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary and cannot be overcome by bare and self-serving allegations. The petitioners failed to convince us that the auction sale conducted by the sheriff indeed suffered from fatal flaws. No evidence was adduced to prove that the sheriff had been remiss in the performance of his duties during the public auction sale. Indeed it would be injudicious for us to assume, as petitioners want us to do, that the sheriff failed to follow the established procedures governing public auctions.
On the contrary, a review of the records shows that the sheriff complied with the rules on public auction. The sale of the City’s vehicle was made publicly in front of the Caloocan City Hall on the date fixed in the notice – July 27, 1992. In fact, petitioners in their Motion to Declare in Contempt of Court; to Set Aside the Garnishment and Administrative Complaint admitted as much:
On July 27, 1992, by virtue of an alias writ of execution issued by the respondent court, a vehicle owned by the petitioner xxx was levied and sold at public auction for the amount of
P100,000.00 and which amount was immediately delivered to the private respondent x x x x21
Hence, petitioners cannot now be heard to impugn the validity of the auction sale.
Petitioners, in desperation, likewise make much of the proceedings before the trial court on October 8, 1992, wherein petitioner Norma Abracia, Superintendent of the Division of City Schools of Caloocan, was commanded to appear and show cause why she should not be cited in contempt for delaying the execution of judgment. This was in connection with her failure (or refusal) to surrender the three motor vehicles assigned to the Division of City Schools to the custody of the sheriff. Petitioner Abracia, assisted by Mr. Ricardo Nagpacan of the Division of City Schools, appeared during the hearing but requested a ten-day period within which to refer the matter of contempt to a counsel of her choice. The request was denied by Judge Allarde in his assailed order dated October 8, 1992. Thus petitioner Abracia claimed, inter alia, that: (a) she was denied due process; (b) the silence of the order of Judge Allarde on her request for time violated an orderly and faithful recording of the proceedings, and (c) she was coerced into agreeing to surrender the vehicles.
We do not think so. What violates due process is the absolute lack of opportunity to be heard. That opportunity, the Court is convinced, was sufficiently accorded to petitioner Abracia. She was notified of the contempt charge against her; she was effectively assisted by counsel when she appeared during the hearing on October 8, 1992; and she was afforded ample opportunity to answer and refute the charge against her. The circumstance that she opted not to avail of her chance to be heard on that occasion by asking for an extension of time within which to hire a counsel of her choice, a request denied by the trial court, did not transgress nor deprive her of her right to due process.
Significantly, during the hearing on October 8, 1992, Mr. Nagpacan manifested in open court that, after conferring with petitioner Abracia, the latter was "willing to surrender these vehicles into the custody of the sheriff on the condition that the standing motion (for contempt) be withdrawn."22 Her decision was made freely and voluntarily, and after conferring with her counsel. Moreover, it was petitioner Abracia herself who imposed the condition that respondent Santiago should withdraw her motion for contempt in exchange for her promise to surrender the subject vehicles. Thus, petitioner Abracia’s claim that she was coerced into surrendering the vehicles had no basis.
Even assuming ex gratia argumenti that there indeed existed certain legal infirmities in connection with the assailed orders of Judge Allarde, still, considering the totality of circumstances of this case, the nullification of the contested orders would be way out of line. For 21 long years, starting 1972 when this controversy started up to 1993 when her claim was fully paid out of the garnished funds of the City of Caloocan, respondent Santiago was cruelly and unjustly deprived of what was due her. It would be, at the very least, merciless and unchristian to make private respondent refund the City of Caloocan the amount already paid to her, only to force her to go through the same nightmare all over again.
At any rate, of paramount importance to us is that justice has been served. No right of the public was violated and public interest was preserved.
Finally, we cannot simply pass over in silence the deplorable act of the former Mayor of Caloocan City in refusing to sign the check in payment of the City’s obligation to private respondent. It was an open defiance of judicial processes, smacking of political arrogance, and a direct violation of the very ordinance he himself approved. Our Resolution in G.R. No. 98366, City Government of Caloocan vs. Court of Appeals, et al., dated May 16, 1991, dismissing the petition of the City of Caloocan assailing the issuance of a writ of execution by the trial court, already resolved with finality all impediments to the execution of judgment in this case. Yet, the City Government of Caloocan, in a blatant display of malice and bad faith, refused to comply with the decision. Now, it has the temerity to come to this Court once more and continue inflicting injustice on a hapless citizen, as if all the harm and prejudice it has already heaped upon respondent Santiago are still not enough.
This Court will not condone the repudiation of just obligations contracted by municipal corporations. On the contrary, we will extend our aid and every judicial facility to any citizen in the enforcement of just and valid claims against abusive local government units.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED for utter lack of merit. The assailed orders of the trial court dated October 1, 1992, October 8, 1992 and May 7, 1993, respectively, are AFFIRMED.
Petitioners and their counsels are hereby warned against filing any more pleadings in connection with the issues already resolved with finality herein and in related cases.
Costs against petitioners.
Panganiban, (Acting Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
Puno, (Chairman), J., on official leave.
Puno, (Chairman), J., on official leave.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Manuel C. Herrera, concurred in by then Associate Justices Justo P. Torres, Jr. (retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) and Pacita Cañizares-Nye of the Eleventh Division.
2 Rollo, p. 90.
3 Annex "19" and "19-1," Rollo, pp. 238-239.
4 Annex "1," Rollo, p. 81.
5 Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 24280, City Government of Caloocan vs. Allarde, et al. Decision penned by Associate Justice Artemon D. Luna, concurred in by Associate Justices Serafin E. Camilon and Celso L. Magsino of the Seventh Division.
6 Annex "C," Rollo, p. 49.
7 Annex "G" and "G-1," Rollo, pp. 57-58.
8 Annex "A," Rollo, pp. 116-117.
10 Cebu International Finance Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 316 SCRA 488, 499 .
11 Commissioner of Public Highways vs. San Diego, 31 SCRA 616 .
12 Republic vs. Palacios, 23 SCRA 899  citing 49 Am. Jur., § 104, pp. 312-320.
13 Providence Washington Insurance Co. vs. Republic of the Philippines, 29 SCRA 598 .
14 132 SCRA 156 .
15 190 SCRA 206 .
16 31 SCRA 616 .
17 Petitioners’ Motion to Declare in Contempt of Court; To Set Aside Garnishment and Administrative Complaint. Rollo, pp. 132-145.
18 Section 55. Veto Power of the Local Chief Executive. xxx
(b) The local chief executive, except the punong barangay, shall have the power to veto any particular item or items of an appropriations ordinance, an ordinance or resolution adopting a local development plan and public investment program, or an ordinance directing the payment of money or creating liability. In such a case, the veto shall not affect the item or items which are not objected to. The vetoed item or items shall not take effect unless the sanggunian overrides the veto in the manner herein provided; otherwise, the item or items in the appropriations ordinance of the previous year corresponding to those vetoed, if any, shall be deemed reenacted.
19 Petitioners’ Motion dated June 2, 1993, at p. 6. Rollo, p. 247.
20 Annex "H," Rollo, p. 59.
21 Rollo, pp. 132-145.
22 TSN, October 8, 1992, pp. 6-8.