G.R. No. 150794             August 17, 2004
ATTY. ROMEO B. IGOT, petitioner,
COURT OF APPEALS and MANILA ELECTRIC COMPANY (MERALCO), respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
Before us is a petition for mandamus with prayer for a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction filed by petitioner Atty. Romeo B. Igot to compel the respondent Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to comply with the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction1 issued by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66251.
On February 24, 1983, the petitioner and the respondent executed a service contract under which the latter would provide electricity to the petitionerís house at No. 1 Lucky Street, Santolan, Pasig City. The respondent installed an electric meter on a Meralco post, along F. Pasco Avenue, Santolan, Pasig City, about fifteen (15) meters away from the petitionerís residence.
On November 13, 1998, the petitioner compiled all his electric bills and discovered that his Meralco statement amounted to only
P18.20 for the period of September 24, 1998 to October 26, 1998. Suspicious of the unusual figure, the petitioner inspected the electric meter which the respondent installed near his house and discovered that the Meralco seal was still intact but that the meter had stopped rotating. He sent a letter2 to the respondent requesting that his electric meter be checked at the soonest possible time and if found to be defective, demanded that it be replaced.
The petitioner did not receive any reply from the respondent. On February 1, 1999, he was surprised to receive his Meralco electric bill3 showing his estimated electrical consumption for the period of December 23, 1998 to January 25, 1999, as amounting to
P12,100.30. He wrote the respondent on February 3, 1999, requesting that he be furnished with a detailed computation. The petitioner received a letter4 from the respondent on February 6, 1999 demanding the payment of the sum of P111,182.05, within ten days from receipt thereof, on account of the alleged findings of defects in the metering installation which was discovered during an inspection by its employees. Portions of the letter read:
The inspection of your metering installation on January 5, 1999, yielded the following findings of our field personnel:
1. THE LEAD COVER SEALS WERE PULLED OUT FROM THE SEALING WIRE.
2. THE DRIVING GEAR OF THE 2ND SHAFT WAS FILED CAUSING IT TO DISENGAGE PARTIALLY FROM THE DRIVEN GEAR OF THE 3RD SHAFT OF THE REGISTER ASSEMBLY.
Given the above finding(s) and in accordance with Republic Act No. 7832 (Anti-Pilferage of Electricity and Theft of Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Act of 1994) (sic), you are billed the amount of
Worse, on February 11, 1999, the petitioner received a notice of disconnection5 from the respondent, which the latter threatened to implement should he fail to pay the amount of
P123,282.35 within the day.
On February 12, 1999, the petitioner filed a complaint for damages with an application for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction against the respondent with the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City. The trial court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO).
During the hearing on February 15, 1999, Atty. Angelito Aguila, the counsel of the respondent, manifested that it would not disconnect the petitionerís electric supply until the trial court shall have resolved the issue on the preliminary injunction. The petitioner, in turn, manifested that he was withdrawing his plea for the issuance of a TRO.
However, on July 9, 1999, the electric supply to the petitionerís house was disconnected by the respondent. As a consequence, the petitioner paid the bill on the same day, after being assured by the respondent that it would order the reconnection the following day, which was a Saturday. The weekend passed, but the electricity at the petitionerís residence remained unrestored, and his children personally went to the respondent to plead their cause. However, the respondentís employees, namely, Atty. Alfonso Lacap and Rolando Dela Paz, disallowed the reconnection unless the petitioner tendered the amount of
P12,100.30, supposedly as payment for the electric bill covering the period of December 24, 1998 to January 25, 1999. As a consequence, the petitioner personally tendered PNB Check No. 0000408 in the amount of P12,100.30 on July 13, 1999, accompanied by a formal request for the restoration of his electric supply. Notwithstanding the offer of payment, Rolando Dela Paz made a notation on the petitionerís letter stating that payment of arrears would be accepted, but without the reconnection. Still, the respondent restored the petitionerís electricity in the afternoon of July 13, 1999.
In the Order dated July 15, 1999, the trial court granted the petitionerís plea for a writ of preliminary injunction upon posting and approval of the required bond in the amount of
P124,000.00 to answer for the damages that the respondent may incur if the writ would later on be found to have been wrongly issued.
The petitioner filed a supplemental complaint impleading Atty. Alfonso Lacap, Atty. Angelito Aguila and Rolando Dela Paz, for their alleged refusal to cause the reconnection of the electricity to his house. In the Order dated January 4, 2000, the trial court admitted the supplemental complaint.
For the petitionerís repeated failure to appear during the hearings set for the presentation of his evidence, the trial court dismissed the complaint on January 11, 2001. A motion for reconsideration was filed by the petitioner on January 12, 2001, which the trial court denied on June 29, 2001.
Aggrieved, the petitioner filed a special civil action for certiorari on August 22, 2001 with the Court of Appeals for the nullification of the trial courtís order dismissing his complaint, alleging that the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. At 11:00 a.m. on August 24, 2001, the respondent disconnected the electric supply to the petitionerís house. The CA issued a resolution at about 3:00 p.m. enjoining the trial court from further proceeding with the case and, likewise, ordered the respondent to cease and desist from enforcing its threatened act to disconnect the petitionerís electric supply.6
The petitioner filed with the CA a motion for the issuance of an order directing the respondent to immediately restore his electricity as ordered by the appellate court. The petitioner, likewise, filed an urgent motion for the issuance of a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction to compel the respondent to restore the electric supply to his residence. The respondent opposed the same, alleging that the electricity was disconnected as early as 11:00 a.m. of August 24, 2001, while the CAís resolution which granted the TRO was promulgated at around 3:45 p.m. of the same day. It also alleged that the TRO was rendered moot and academic, as the electricity in the petitionerís house was already disconnected even prior to the promulgation of the CA resolution.
The petitioner filed an urgent motion for the reconnection of the electric supply to his house within twenty-four hours. The CA, thereafter, issued a Resolution7 granting the petitionerís request for the issuance of a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction and requiring the respondent to restore the electricity in the petitionerís house within twenty-four hours "from notice of the approval of the bond." On September 3, 2001, the petitioner posted a surety bond8 in the amount of
P50,000.00 but the CA did not act thereon. The CA rendered the Decision9 on September 17, 2001, directing the trial court to proceed with the trial of the case, and making the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction it earlier issued permanent.
The respondent filed a motion for the reconsideration of the decision, alleging that the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction issued by the trial court was ineffective. It pointed out that the petitioner posted a surety bond instead of depositing cash or cashierís check as required by Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7832. On September 18, 2001, the petitioner wrote the respondent requesting for the restoration of electric supply to his house, to no avail. On September 24, 2001, the petitioner filed an urgent motion for the CA to issue a supplemental order directing the respondent to restore the electric supply to his house within twenty-four hours, considering that he had posted a surety bond in the amount of
P50,000.00. On September 27, 2001, the CA issued a Resolution granting the petitionerís motion with a warning to the respondent that it may be impelled to take a more drastic action. In a manifestation, the respondent alleged that the decision of the CA had not yet become final and executory; hence, it could not be compelled to restore the electric supply to the petitionerís residence. The petitioner again wrote the respondent on October 5, 2001, reiterating the need for compliance with the CA resolution. On October 16, 2001, the petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion alleging as follows:
1. FOR WITHDRAWAL OF VERY URGENT MOTION FOR ISSUANCE OF SECOND SUPPLEMENTAL ORDER, etc., FILED ON OCTOBER 11, 2001;
2. FOR ISSUANCE OF AN ORDER DIRECTING THE PASIG POLICE STATION TO HELP IMPLEMENT THE WRIT OF PRELIMINARY MANDATORY INJUNCTION ISSUED ON AUGUST 31, 2001 AND THE SUCCEEDING ORDER OF SEPTEMBER 27, 2001, RESPECTIVELY;
3. FOR REITERATED MOTION TO CITE PRIVATE RESPONDENT MERALCOíS OFFICERS AND LAWYERS IN CONTEMPT OF COURT.10
On November 8, 2001, the respondent filed a petition for review on certiorari with this Court for the reversal of the decision of the CA. The case was docketed as G.R. No. 149913. The respondent filed a manifestation that it would reconnect the electric supply to the house of the petitioner as soon as the decision of the CA had become final and executory. On December 5, 2001, this Court issued a Resolution denying the petition.
On December 8, 2001, the petitioner filed his petition for mandamus with this Court to compel the CA to execute the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction it earlier issued; alternatively, to grant his omnibus motion filed on October 16, 2001 with the CA to direct the Chief of the Pasig Police Station to enforce the writs issued by the appellate court; and to cite the officers and lawyers of the respondent in contempt of court for resisting the writs issued by the CA.
In its comment on the petition, the respondent averred that it had already reconnected the electric supply to the petitionerís house at about 8:00 a.m. of February 14, 2001 in view of the Courtís denial of its petition for review in G.R. No. 149913. It emphasized that the CA never issued a writ for preliminary mandatory injunction against the respondent; nor was it notified of the approval by the CA of the petitionerís injunction bond. The respondent prayed for the dismissal of the petition for lack of merit, and for being moot and academic.
The petitioner filed a reply alleging that while his petition for mandamus may have been rendered moot and academic, its petition to cite the officers and lawyers of the respondent still has to be resolved by the Court.
The issues for resolution are the following: (a) whether the petition for mandamus has become moot and academic in light of the restoration by the respondent of the electric supply to the house of the petitioner pendente lite; and, (b) whether the Court has jurisdiction over the omnibus motion of the petitioner filed with the CA to cite the officers and lawyers of the respondent in contempt of the CA.
The Ruling of the Court
On the first issue, we agree that with the electric supply to the petitionerís house having been restored by the respondent pendente lite, the instant petition for mandamus has become moot and academic. We note, however, that contrary to the allegations of the petitioner in this case, the CA did not issue any writ of preliminary mandatory injunction before it rendered its decision granting his petition for mandamus. In fact, the CA never approved the surety bond which was dated September 3, 2001 posted by the petitioner. Under its Resolution dated August 31, 2001, the CA ordered the reconnection of the electric supply to the petitionerís house, to take effect within twenty-four hours from notice of the approval of the petitionerís bond.
On the second issue, the petitionerís plea for the Court to cite respondent Meralco and its officers and lawyers for indirect contempt for resisting to comply with the CA Decision and the Resolutions dated August 31, 2001 and September 27, 2001 has no merit. The petitioner, being a lawyer himself, ought to know that the charge must be filed before the court against which the indirect contempt was committed.11 The pertinent rules on the matter are Sections 4 and 5, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, which read:
SEC. 4. How proceedings commenced. Ė Proceedings for indirect contempt may be initiated motu proprio by the court against which the contempt was committed by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt.
In all other cases, charges for indirect contempt shall be commenced by a verified petition with supporting particulars and certified true copies of documents or papers involved therein, and upon full compliance with the requirements for filing initiatory pleadings for civil actions in the court concerned. If the contempt charges arose out of or are related to a principal action pending in the court, the petition for contempt shall allege that fact but said petition shall be docketed, heard and decided separately, unless the court in its discretion orders the consolidation of the contempt charge and the principal action for joint hearing and decision.
SEC. 5. Where charge to be filed. Ė Where the charge for indirect contempt has been committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank, or against an officer appointed by it, the charge may be filed with such court. Where such contempt has been committed against a lower court, the charge may be filed with the Regional Trial Court of the place in which the lower court is sitting; but the proceedings may also be instituted in such lower court subject to appeal to the Regional Trial Court of such place in the same manner as provided in section 11 of this Rule.
As we ruled in San Luis v. Court of Appeals:12
"In whatever context it may arise, contempt of court involves the doing of an act, or the failure to do an act, in such a manner as to create an affront to the court and the sovereign dignity with which it is clothed. As a matter of practical judicial administration, jurisdiction has been felt to properly rest in only one tribunal at a time with respect to a given controversy." Only the court which rendered the order commanding the doing of a certain act is vested with the right to determine whether or not the order has been complied with, or whether a sufficient reason has been given for noncompliance, and, therefore, whether a contempt has been committed. It is a well-established rule that the power to determine the existence of contempt of court rests exclusively with the court contemned. No court is authorized to punish a contempt against another.
"The rationale that is usually advanced for the general rule Ö is that, contempt proceedings are sui generis and are triable only by the court against whose authority the contempts are charged; the power to punish for contempt exists for the purpose of enabling a court to compel due decorum and respect in its presence and due obedience to its judgments, orders and processes and in order that a court may compel obedience to its orders, it must have the right to inquire whether there has been any disobedience thereof, for to submit the question of disobedience to another tribunal would operate to deprive the proceeding of half its efficiency."
Section 4, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court provides, in effect, that a charge for indirect contempt must be filed with the court contemned. Although this provision is permissive in nature, in the event of concurrent jurisdiction over cases of contempt of court, it would be a good practice to acknowledge the preferential right of the court against which the act of contempt was committed to try and punish the guilty party.
The court that granted the preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order preserving the status quo is vested with the power to hear and determine the sufficiency and merit of the contempt charge. Only the court which issued the injunction can impose a sanction for contempt of that injunction, and a court without subject matter jurisdiction cannot transfer the case to another court.13
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition for mandamus is DISMISSED for being MOOT AND ACADEMIC. The petitionerís omnibus motion to cite the officers and lawyers of the respondent is DENIED. No costs.
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Eugenio S. Labitoria, with Associate Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr. and Perlita J. Tria Tirona, concurring.
2 Annex "J," Records, Vol. I, p. 22.
3 Annex "K," Id. at 23.
4 Annex "N," Id. at 30.
5 Annex "O," Id. at 31.
6 CA Rollo, pp. 197-198.
7 Id. at 237.
8 Id. at 240.
9 Id. at 303.
10 Rollo, pp. 33-34.
11 See Section 5, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides:
Where charge to be filed. Ė Where the charge for indirect contempt has been committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank, or against an officer appointed by it, the charge may be filed with such court.
12 365 SCRA 279 (2001).
13 17 Am.Jur.2d Contempt ß 60.
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