Respondent Southern Luzon Institute (SLI), filed a Complaint for Recovery of Ownership and Possession with Damages against petitioners. SLI alleged that it is the absolute owner of a 7,516-square meter parcel of land. However, petitioners and their co-defendants who had been informally occupying a portion of the said property refused to vacate the same despite demand. Hence, SLI sought that they be ordered to immediately vacate the premises, turn over the same to SLI, and pay compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and cost of suit.
In their Answer with Counterclaim,9 petitioners and their co-defendants asserted that they did not heed SLI’s demand to vacate as they believed that they have the right to stay on the said property. They relied on their occupation thereof and that of their predecessors-in-interest which, according to them, dates back to as early as 1950. Impugning SLI’s claims, petitioners and their co-defendants averred that SLI had not even for a single moment taken possession of the subject property and was merely able to procure a title over the same thru fraud, bad faith and misrepresentation. By way of counterclaim, they prayed that they be declared the lawful possessors of the property; that OCT No. P-28928 be declared null and void; and, that SLI be ordered to pay them moral damages and litigation expenses.
Petitioners and their co-defendants filed a Notice of Appeal which was granted by the RTC. The CA, however, dismissed the appeal since it was not shown that the appellate court docket fees and other lawful fees were paid. Petitioners and their co-defendants promptly filed a Motion for Reconsideration to which they attached a Certification from the RTC that they paid the appeal fee. In view of this, the CA granted the said motion and consequently reinstated the appeal. Subsequently, however, the CA further required petitioners and their codefendants, to remit within ten days from notice the amount of ₱30.00 for legal research fund, which apparently was not included in the appeal fee previously paid by them.
Despite the lapse of nine months from their counsel’s receipt of the said resolution, petitioners and their co-defendants, however, failed to comply with the CA’s directive. Hence, the said court dismissed the appeal.
Petitioners and their co-defendants filed a Motion for Reconsideration invoking the principle of liberality in the application of technical rules considering that they have paid the substantial amount for docket and other legal fees and fell short only by the meager amount of ₱30.00. As compliance, they attached to the said motion a postal money order in the sum of ₱30.00 payable to the Clerk of Court of the CA.
The CA, however, was not swayed, hence, the denial of the Motion for Reconsideration. Hence this Case:
Whether the court of appeals gravely erred in dismissing the appeal filed by the petitioners for failure to remit the meager amount of thirty pesos (₱30.00) after having advanced a substantial portion of the docket fees.
No, Payment of the full amount of appellate court docket and lawful fees is
mandatory and jurisdictional; Relaxation of the rule on payment of appeal fee is unwarranted in this case.The liberality which petitioners pray for has already been granted to them by the CA at the outset. It may be recalled that while petitioners paid a substantial part of the docket fees, they still failed to pay the full amount thereof since their payment was short of ₱30.00. Based on the premise that the questioned Decision of the RTC has already become final and executory due to non-perfection, the CA could have dismissed the appeal outright. But owing to the fact that only the meager amount of ₱30.00 was lacking and considering that the CA may opt not to proceed with the case until the docket fees are paid, it still required petitioners, even if it was already beyond the reglementary period, to complete their payment of the appeal fee within 10 days from notice. Clearly, the CA acted conformably with the pronouncement made in Camposagrado, a case cited by petitioners, that “[a] party’s failure to pay the appellate docket fee within the reglementary period confers only a discretionary and not a mandatory power to dismiss the proposed appeal. Such discretionary power should be used in the exercise of the court’s sound judgment in accordance with the tenets of justice and fair play with great deal of circumspection, considering all attendant circumstances and must be exercised wisely and prudently, never capriciously, with a view to substantial justice.”
Suffice it to say that “[c]oncomitant to the liberal interpretation of the rules of procedure should be an effort on the part of the party invoking liberality to adequately explain his failure to abide by the rules.” Those who seek exemption from the application of the rule have the burden of proving the existence of exceptionally meritorious reason warranting such departure. Petitioners’ failure to advance any explanation as to why they failed to pay the correct docket fees or to complete payment of the same within the period allowed by the CA is thus fatal to their cause. Hence, a departure from the rule on the payment of the appeal fee is unwarranted.