Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board; jurisdiction.

G.R. No. 187978

ROMULO R. PERALTA vs. HON. RAUL E. DE LEON, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Parañaque, Branch 258, HON. ARBITER DUNSTAN SAN VICENTE, in his capacity as Housing and Land Use Regulatory Arbiter and LUCAS ELOSO EJE, in his capacity as Sheriff, Regional Trial Court, Parañaque City and CONCEPTS AND SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT INC., as represented by its CHAIRMAN KASUO NORO, G.R. No. 187978, November 24, 2010.


x x x.

The petitioner cited the case of Suntay v. Gocolay, [G.R. No. 144892, September 23, 2005] but it is clearly not applicable. In said case, the issue was jurisdiction over issues regarding title or ownership of a condominium unit. Supreme Court held that the HLURB has no jurisdiction to rule on such issues.

x x x.

Generally, the extent to which an administrative agency may exercise its powers depends largely, if not wholly, on the provisions of the statute creating or empowering such agency. Presidential Decree No. 1344, “Empowering the National Housing Authority to Issue Writ of Execution in the Enforcement of its Decision under Presidential Decree No. 957,” clarifies and spells out the quasi-judicial dimensions of the grant of jurisdiction to the HLURB in the following specific terms:

Sec 1. In the exercise of its functions to regulate real estate trade and business and in addition to its powers provided for in Presidential Decree No. 957, the National Housing Authority shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide cases of the following nature.

A. Unsound real estate business practices;

B. Claims involving refund and any other claims filed by subdivision lot or condominium unit buyer against the project owner, developer, dealer, broker or salesman; and

C. Cases involving specific performance of contractual and statutory obligations filed by buyers of subdivision lots or condominium units against the owner, developer, broker or salesman.[14]

x x x.

It is a settled rule that the jurisdiction of the HLURB to hear and decide cases is determined by the nature of the cause of action, the subject matter or property involved and the parties.[15]

In Civil Case No. 07-0141, petitioner prayed for the issuance of temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to restrain respondent CSDI from cancelling the Contract to Sell, forfeiting the amortization payment, foreclosing petitioner’s condominium units, and garnishing his bank deposits. Specifically, petitioner asked that the RTC, Branch 258:

1. Immediately upon receipt of this petition, a temporary restraining Order be issued and/or a Preliminary Injunction, pending the determination of the merits of the case, by way of restraining defendants from forfeiting the amortization payments, foreclosure of plaintiff’s condominium unit, its break opening, and garnishment of plaintiff’s bank deposits at Bank of Philippine Islands, Forbes Park branch, Makati City.

2. To order the final and permanent injunction.

3. And to order defendant-developer to pay plaintiff the actual damages of his hospitalization amounting to Php 60,000.00 including the interest until fully paid, caused by the unlawful and damaging acts of defendants as above shown;

4. To order defendant developer to pay P300,000.00 as moral damages to plaintiff;

5. Another payment of P300,000.00 as exemplary damages to plaintiff;

6. To pay Attorneys fees of P50,000.00 and costs of suit;

7. Ordering defendants to adhere to the License to Sell and all its strict compliance thereto imposed on defendant developer.[16]

We have to agree with the trial court and the Court of Appeals that jurisdiction over the complaint filed by the petitioner is with the HLURB.

Maria Luisa Park Association, Inc. v. Almendras,[17] finds application in this case. The Court ruled:

The provisions of P.D. No. 957 were intended to encompass all questions regarding subdivisions and condominiums. The intention was aimed at providing for an appropriate government agency, the HLURB, to which all parties aggrieved in the implementation of provisions and the enforcement of contractual rights with respect to said category of real estate may take recourse. The business of developing subdivisions and corporations being imbued with public interest and welfare, any question arising from the exercise of that prerogative should be brought to the HLURB which has the technical know-how on the matter. In the exercise of its powers, the HLURB must commonly interpret and apply contracts and determine the rights of private parties under such contracts. This ancillary power is no longer a uniquely judicial function, exercisable only by the regular courts.[18]

This Court was equally explicit in Chua v. Ang,[19] when it pronounced that:

x x x The law recognized, too, that subdivision and condominium development involves public interest and welfare and should be brought to a body, like the HLURB, that has technical expertise. In the exercise of its powers, the HLURB, on the other hand, is empowered to interpret and apply contracts, and determine the rights of private parties under these contracts. This ancillary power, generally judicial, is now no longer with the regular courts to the extent that the pertinent HLURB laws provide.

Viewed from this perspective, the HLURB’s jurisdiction over contractual rights and obligations of parties under subdivision and condominium contracts comes out very clearly.[20]

We are in accord with the RTC when it held:

First: On the matter of lack of jurisdiction of this Court over this case – This Court is fully aware of the cited decisions of respondents particularly those which pertain to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) as provided for under pertinent laws to the exclusion of the regular courts and this is one of them. It cannot be gainsaid that while [plaintiff] harps on Arts. 20 and 21 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines to be the basis of his cause of action for damages before this Court, the issue of his claiming damages against respondent Concepts & Systems Dev’t. Inc. (CSDI), has already been resolved in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646 in favor of CSDI and against him to which a Writ of Execution has been issued, partially implemented by co-respondent Sheriff Lucas Eloso Eje and to which [plaintiff] is asking this Court to issue a temporary restraining order in order to suspend the full implementation of said writ. While [plaintiff] claims that his cause of action is one of damages, the truth is his main objective is to have this Court enjoin the enforcement of the writ of execution issued by the HLURB. Such subterfuge is easily discernible in view of the amount of damages [plaintiff] is only claiming in this case against that which respondent CSDI is entitled to if the writ of execution is fully satisfied. This cannot be done for it is tantamount to undue interference with the decision of a quasi-judicial body which, as above-stated, is vested by law and jurisprudence with exclusive authority to hear and decide cases between sellers and buyers of subdivision lots and condominium units, among others.

The Court, therefore, hereby adopts by reference the arguments of respondent CSDI relative to this Court’s lack of jurisdiction to hear and decide this case which need no longer be repeated herein as it will not serve any useful purpose.[21]

As observed in C.T. Torres Enterprises, Inc. v. Hibionada:[22]

The argument that only courts of justice can adjudicate claims resoluble under the provisions of the Civil Code is out of step with the fast-changing times. There are hundreds of administrative bodies now performing this function by virtue of a valid authorization from the legislature. This quasi-judicial function, as it is called, is exercised by them as an incident of the principal power entrusted to them of regulating certain activities falling under their particular expertise.

Finally, it must be emphasized that the decision of the HLURB in HLURB Case No. REM-091699-10646, has already become final and executory due to the failure of the petitioner to elevate the dismissal of his appeal by the Office of the President to the Court of Appeals. It is axiomatic that final and executory judgments can no longer be attacked by any of the parties or be modified, directly or indirectly, even by the highest court of the land.[23]

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit and the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 29 May 2008 in CA G.R. SP No. 98922 as well as its Resolution dated 11 May 2009 are AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner.

x x x.