Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Verification vs. anti-forum shopping certification; defective vs. absence; rule of liberality explained - G.R. No. 154704

G.R. No. 154704

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"x x x.

In this regard, the case of Oldarico S. Traveno v. Bobongon Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative,[10] is enlightening:

Respecting the appellate court’s dismissal of petitioners’ appeal due to the failure of some of them to sign the therein accompanying verification and certification against forum-shopping, the Court’s guidelines for the bench and bar in Altres v. Empleo, which were culled “from jurisprudential pronouncements,” are instructive:

For the guidance of the bench and bar, the Court restates in capsule form the jurisprudential pronouncements already reflected above respecting non-compliance with the requirements on, or submission of defective, verification and certification against forum shopping:

1) A distinction must be made between non-compliance with the requirement on or submission of defective verification, and non-compliance with the requirement on or submission of defective certification against forum shopping.

2) As to verification, non-compliance therewith or a defect therein does not necessarily render the pleading fatally defective. The Court may order its submission or correction or act on the pleading if the attending circumstances are such that strict compliance with the Rule may be dispensed with in order that the ends of justice may be served thereby.

3) Verification is deemed substantially complied with when one who has ample knowledge to swear to the truth of the allegations in the complaint or petition signs the verification, and when matters alleged in the petition have been made in good faith or are true and correct.

4) As to certification against forum shopping, non-compliance therewith or a defect therein, unlike in verification, is generally not curable by its subsequent submission or correction thereof, unless there is a need to relax the Rule on the ground of “substantial compliance” or presence of “special circumstances or compelling reasons.”

5) The certification against forum shopping must be signed by all the plaintiffs or petitioners in a case; otherwise, those who did not sign will be dropped as parties to the case. Under reasonable or justifiable circumstances, however, as when all the plaintiffs or petitioners share a common interest and invoke a common cause of action or defense, the signature of only one of them in the certification against forum shopping substantially complies with the Rule.

6) Finally, the certification against forum shopping must be executed by the party-pleader, not by his counsel. If, however, for reasonable or justifiable reasons, the party-pleader is unable to sign, he must execute a Special Power of Attorney designating his counsel of record to sign on his behalf.

The petition for certiorari filed with the CA stated the following names as petitioners: Nellie Panelo Vda. De Formoso, Ma. Theresa Formoso-Pescador, Roger Formoso, Mary Jane Formoso, Bernard Formoso, Benjamin Formoso, and Primitivo Malcaba.

Admittedly, among the seven (7) petitioners mentioned, only Malcaba signed the verification and certification of non-forum shopping in the subject petition. There was no proof that Malcaba was authorized by his co-petitioners to sign for them. There was no special power of attorney shown by the Formosos authorizing Malcaba as their attorney-in-fact in filing a petition for review on certiorari. Neither could the petitioners give at least a reasonable explanation as to why only he signed the verification and certification of non-forum shopping. In Athena Computers, Inc. and Joselito R. Jimenez v. Wesnu A. Reyes, the Court explained that:

The verification of the petition and certification on non-forum shopping before the Court of Appeals were signed only by Jimenez. There is no showing that he was authorized to sign the same by Athena, his co-petitioner.

Section 4, Rule 7 of the Rules states that a pleading is verified by an affidavit that the affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct of his knowledge and belief. Consequently, the verification should have been signed not only by Jimenez but also by Athena’s duly authorized representative.

In Docena v. Lapesura, we ruled that the certificate of non-forum shopping should be signed by all the petitioners or plaintiffs in a case, and that the signing by only one of them is insufficient. The attestation on non-forum shopping requires personal knowledge by the party executing the same, and the lone signing petitioner cannot be presumed to have personal knowledge of the filing or non-filing by his co-petitioners of any action or claim the same as similar to the current petition.

The certification against forum shopping in CA-G.R. SP No. 72284 is fatally defective, not having been duly signed by both petitioners and thus warrants the dismissal of the petition for certiorari. We have consistently held that the certification against forum shopping must be signed by the principal parties. With respect to a corporation, the certification against forum shopping may be signed for and on its behalf, by a specifically authorized lawyer who has personal knowledge of the facts required to be disclosed in such document.

While the Rules of Court may be relaxed for persuasive and weighty reasons to relieve a litigant from an injustice commensurate with his failure to comply with the prescribed procedures, nevertheless they must be faithfully followed. In the instant case, petitioners have not shown any reason which justifies relaxation of the Rules. We have held that procedural rules are not to be belittled or dismissed simply because their non-observance may have prejudiced a party’s substantive rights. Like all rules, they are required to be followed except for the most persuasive of reasons when they may be relaxed. Not one of these persuasive reasons is present here.

In fine, we hold that the Court of Appeals did not err in dismissing the petition for certiorari in view of the procedural lapses committed by petitioners.[11] [Emphases supplied]

Furthermore, the petitioners argue that the CA should not have dismissed the whole petition but should have given it due course insofar as Malcaba is concerned because he signed the certification. The petitioners also contend that the CA should have been liberal in the application of the Rules because they have a meritorious case against PNB.

The Court, however, is not persuaded.

The petitioners were given a chance by the CA to comply with the Rules when they filed their motion for reconsideration, but they refused to do so. Despite the opportunity given to them to make all of them sign the verification and certification of non-forum shopping, they still failed to comply. Thus, the CA was constrained to deny their motion and affirm the earlier resolution.[12]

Indeed, liberality and leniency were accorded in some cases.[13] In these cases, however, those who did not sign were relatives of the lone signatory, so unlike in this case, where Malcaba is not a relative who is similarly situated with the other petitioners and who cannot speak for them. In the case of Heirs of Domingo Hernandez, Sr. v. Plaridel Mingoa, Sr.,[14] it was written:

In the instant case, petitioners share a common interest and defense inasmuch as they collectively claim a right not to be dispossessed of the subject lot by virtue of their and their deceased parents’ construction of a family home and occupation thereof for more than 10 years. The commonality of their stance to defend their alleged right over the controverted lot thus gave petitioners xxx authority to inform the Court of Appeals in behalf of the other petitioners that they have not commenced any action or claim involving the same issues in another court or tribunal, and that there is no other pending action or claim in another court or tribunal involving the same issues.

Here, all the petitioners are immediate relatives who share a common interest in the land sought to be reconveyed and a common cause of action raising the same arguments in support thereof. There was sufficient basis, therefore, for Domingo Hernandez, Jr. to speak for and in behalf of his co-petitioners when he certified that they had not filed any action or claim in another court or tribunal involving the same issues. Thus, the Verification/Certification that Hernandez, Jr. executed constitutes substantial compliance under the Rules. [Emphasis supplied]

The same leniency was accorded to the petitioner in the case of Oldarico S. Traveno v. Bobongon Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative,[15] where it was stated:

The same leniency was applied by the Court in Cavile v. Heirs of Cavile, because the lone petitioner who executed the certification of non-forum shopping was a relative and co-owner of the other petitioners with whom he shares a common interest. x x x[16]

Considering the above circumstances, the Court does not see any similarity at all in the case at bench to compel itself to relax the requirement of strict compliance with the rule regarding the certification against forum shopping.

x x x."