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[ GR Nos. L-10994 and L-11012, Dec 29, 1959 ]



106 Phil. 777

[ G. R. Nos. L-10994 and L-11012, December 29, 1959 ]




On January 25, 1952,  a shipment of 220 packets of marcassite stones from Switzerland arrived  at the Manila International Airport.   The shipment was consigned in the bill of lading to the Philippine National  Bank for the account of  C. C. Abella of 1312 V.  Benavidez,  San  Juan, Rizal. The consular as well as the commercial invoice, however, showed  that  C.  C. Abella of the same address was the "purchaser and consignee".

For lack of an import control license in violation  of Republic Act  No. 650  (Import  Control Law), the  shipment was  seized by the  customs  authorities.  Forfeiture proceedings  were subsequently  instituted and  notice  of the hearing  was served upon Abella.  Another copy  of the notice was posted on the  bulletin board of the customhouse.

At the  hearing originally  set  for October  20,  1952 but postponed to October 25 upon Abella's request Abella denied that he was the same person mentioned in the bill of lading  or that named as the purchaser and consignee in the consular  and commercial  invoices.  He claimed that he  had nothing  to  do with the shipment  and  even declared that he had not  corresponded  previously  with Gola Buchel &  Cie., a  corporation  doing  business  at Lausanne,  Switzerland, and consignor of the  shipment in question.   Construing Abella's denial  as  an abandonment of the importation, the Collector of Customs of Manila on November 22, 1952  rendered decision  ordering its forfeiture.  Copy of the decision was furnished Abella and another  copy, posted on  the bulletin board of the customhouse.  The  decision was not  appealed.  Nevertheless, the Commissioner of Customs, in conformity with the practice followed, reviewed the case motu proprio, and, on January 12, 1953, affirmed the decision of the Collector.   Thereafter, or on January 19, the Commissioner,  pursuant to section 8 of Executive Order No. 401-A, forwarded the record of the case to the Board  of Tax  Appeals for review.

More than two months later, or on April 1, 1953, GolayBuchel & Cie., the consignor of the shipment in question, filed a "petition for review" with the Board of  Tax Appeals stating,  among  other  things,  that  some  time during the month of  December,  1951, it  received an  order from one C. C. Abella of  1312  V. Benavidez, San Juan, Rizal for the purchase of a  quantity  of marcassites; that upon receipt of  a cablegram to the  effect that an import license had been  obtained,  it shipped the merchandise by airplane on or about January 16, 1952; that it had not been notified  the  proceedings subsequently conducted by the Bureau of Customs after the shipment was seized for lack of ail import license; that it learned of the seizure of the shipment only on or about March 14,  1953; that since the consignee,  C. C. Abella, disclaimed knowledge of the importation  and  denied  that he was the consignee  at the seizure  proceedings, notice  to him of the  decision of the Collector of Customs, as  approved  by the Commissioner of Customs, decreeing the  forfeiture of the merchandise in question in favor of the Republic of the Philippines was not notice to petitioner; and that as petitioner was not a party to the seizure  proceedings, it  is not bound by the decision  rendered therein and being the  owner  thereof, was entitled to the  return of the  merchandise.  For relief the petitioner  asked that  judgment be rendered reversing the decision of the  Commissioner and ordering the reshipment of the merchandise to the port of origin, or  that the seizure  proceedings be reopened  in order  that  petitioner may have the opportunity to submit its evidence  and explain its side of the case.

Required to answer by the Board of Tax Appeals, the Commissioner of Customs on May 2,  1953, through the Solicitor General,  filed an answer,  alleging by  way  of affirmative defenses that  the seizure of the merchandise in question was in  accordance with law and that the decision  sought  to be  reviewed had already become  final and could no longer be reviewed nor reopened by appeal.

On May 22,  1953, petitioner amended its "petition for review" by  stating that during  the  month of December, 1951, it received merely a notice  from C. C. Abella to the effect that he had applied for a license for certain articles including marcassites; that owing to an erroneous interpretation  of Abella's notice, petitioner shipped the marcassites to the  Philippines;  and that upon  being apprised by  Abella  of  the mistake,  it instructed its  banker,  the Philippine National Bank, to have the goods reshipped to Switzerland.

Acting  upon the "petition  for review,"  the  Board  of Tax Appeals on  June 5,  1953 denied the  same and sustained  the Commissioner  of Customs,  But on June 25, the Board,  upon petitioner's motion  for reconsideration, suspended the effect of its decision and  directed the Commissioner of Customs "to  order  the Collector of Customs for the port of Manila to reopen this case for the purpose of hearing the evidence and arguments that may be offered or presented by the petitioner or the Philippine National Bank,  who should also be  notified of the date of the  new hearing."

At   the rehearing before  the  Colleetor,  after proper notices had been  served,  the petitioner corporation  presented evidence consisting of a one-page letter alleged  to be that of C.  C. Abella dated December 13, 1951 and addressed to Golay-Buchel & Cie. of Lausanne, Switzerland, stating that a license had been applied for certain precious stones, among them the 220 packets of marcassites; another letter  of Abella dated February  1, 1952 stating in  substance that  he had neither ordered from Golay-Buchel  & Cie. nor instructed  the latter to make any shipment; and a telegram  addressed to Golay-Buchel & Cie. which reads "Please stop shipment Abella."  Abella, who  was presented by petitioner as a witness, also identified four other documents (exhs. D, E, F, and G), the originals of which were already part of the record of the case.  On February  4, 1954 the Collector of Customs, considering that no important evidence had been presented as to materially alter the result  of the  case,  reiterated his previous decree  of  forfeiture.  That decree, on appeal, having been affirmed by the Commissioner, the petitioner filed a petition for review with the  Court of First Instance of Manila.  The  case, however,  was  forwarded  to  the Court  of  Tax  Appeals pursuant to Republic Act  No. 1125 which created it  and abolished the former Board of Tax Appeals.

On June 3,  1956, the Court of Tax Appeals, after hearing, rendered  its decision, reversing that of the Commis sioner of Customs and decreeing the release of the marcassite stones to  petitioner subject to the condition that they be reshipped by the latter to the port of origin under the statutory and administrative  regulations existing at the time of their shipment at the port of Manila.  The decision was  predicated on the theory that the review by the Commissioner of the decision of the Collector of Customs dated November 22, 1952 did not, under section 1381 of the  Revised Administrative  Code  (which  refers  to proceedings in case of property  belonging  to unknown parties), necessitate  the  filing  of  an  appeal since  no claimant appeared  before  the Collector within  10 days after the seizure of the shipment in question.  The decision of the Commissioner was in turn reviewed by the Board of Tax  Appeals so that, according to the Court of Tax Appeals, the  decision of the Collector of Customs had not become final  and  executory on June  30, 1953, when  the Import Control Law (Republic Act No. 650) expired.  And following the  opinion of the Undersecretary of Justice (Op. No. 138, s. 1953), which held that all forfeiture proceedings involving property  imported in violation of  the Import Control Law  abated  with the expiration of that  law,  the court ruled that the customs  authorities had lost  jurisdiction to proceed with the forfeiture proceedings. Not satisfied with  the  decision,  the Commissioner  of Customs filed  with this Court a petition for review  (G.  R. No. L-10994), contending  that  the  decision of the  Collector  of Customs  dated  November 22, 1952, which was not appealed,  had  already become final  even  prior  to the expiration  of  the  Import Control Law.  The  corporation Golay-Buchel  & Cie. also  filed its own petition for review (G. R. No. L-11012) alleging as its sole assignment of error that the court erred in  hot considering the evidence adduced to  the effect that the marcassite stones were shipped to the  Philippines  by mistake.  Upon joint  motion by the parties, the cases  were consolidated and are here decided together.

This Court in the case of  Roxas  vs. Sayoc (100 Phil., 448, 53  Off.  Gaz. [17],  5642) has' already held that the expiration of the  Import Control Law did not produce the  effect  of declaring  legal the importation  of  goods which were  illegally  imported  and  the seizure and forfeiture thereof  as  ordered  by  the Collector of Customs illegal or null and void.   Said this Court in that case:
"* * *Petitioner contends that upon the  expiration of  Republic Act  No.  650 the  Commissioner of Customs lost jurisdiction over the case and therefore his decision was null and void.  This contention is untenable.   It is  a settled  rule  that a  court, be it judicial or  administrative, that has acquired jurisdiction  over a case, retains it even after the expiration of  the law governing the case.  Herein, we are concerned with the effect of the expiration of a law,  not with the abrogation of a law, and we hold the view that once the  Commissioner of Customs has acquired jurisdiction over the case, the mere expiration of  Republic  Act No.  650  will not divest him of his jurisdiction thereon duly acquired while said law was  still in force.  *  *  *."  (See also  Ang  Beng  et  all vs. Comm.  of Immigration, 100 Phil.,  801, 53 Off. Gaz. (13),  4448.)
The question, therefore, that arises  is whether  or not the  seizure and forfeiture proceedings conducted  by  the customs  authorities  were valid,  it being argued  by  the petitioner  Golay-Buchel & Cie. that no notice of the proceedings was  sent to the "owner"  of the merchandise as reqiured in sec.  1375 of the Revised  Administrative Code, the 2nd paragraph of which provides that for the purposes of giving  notice of  the seizure of  imported property and for the purposes of  all other  proceedings in the matter of such seizure,  "the importer, consignee, or  person  holding the bill of lading shall be deemed to  be the 'owner' of the merchandise included in  the bill."

In the present case, there is. reason to believe that Abella, who was  duly notified of the seizure  and forfeiture proceedings, was actually  the importer  and consequently the "owner"  of  the merchandise in  question  under   section 1375 of the  Revised Administrative Code.   The consular invoice,  which was  duly authenticated by the American Consul  at Geneva, Switzerland, who also  acts there as Consul  for the Philippines, shows that the 220  packets of marcassite stones were purchased from Golay-Buchel & Cie. by C. C. Abella.   It is true that Abella denied having ordered the merchandise and that Golay-Buchel & Cie., the consignor or exporter, now contends that there was mistake in shipping the same.   Abella's denial, however, and petitioner's contention cannot be given credence.   Both are belied by  the facts on record.  Abella declared at the first hearing before the Collector of Customs that he had nothing to do with the importation and that he had not previously corresponded with the petitioner Golay-Buchel & Cie.  At the hearing, however,  before the Court  of Tax Appeals that is, after the expiration  of the Import Control Law he testified that he had in fact been dealing with petitioner on jewelry and precious stones since 1932 and that he had already bought similar  goods from it.  The  record in fact shows that on  December 13, 1951 he had  written a letter to petitioner stating  that  a  license has been  applied for certain  precious stones  including 220 packages of marcassites "based on your quotation CIF," and that  "as  soon as the license shall come out for the above order I shall cable you to ship the above as soon as possible."   Apparently, as observed  by the Solicitor General, Abella, in denying any interest in the shipment hoped at the time to avoid criminal prosecution under Republic Act No.  650, which was then still in force.   It will be remembered that the importation without an import license issued  in  accordance with Republic Act No. 650 was punishable with a fine of not less than P2,000.00 nor more than P20,000.00, or  imprisonment of not less than two years nor more than five years, or both, at the discretion of the court, besides the forfeiture of the goods imported.   (Sec. 18, Rep. Act No. 650.)

Counsel for the petitioner corporation in contending that the  marcassite  stones  were shipped to the  Philippines through inadvertence or mistake, cites  Abella's letter of December 13, 1951 already  referred  to.  In that letter, according to petitioner, Abella merely sent  a notice  that "a  license has been  applied  (for the marcassite  stones indicated therein)  based on your quotation  CIF."  It is claimed  that  petitioner's  employee "who  used to handle the orders of Mr. Abella" was led to believe  by the letter that the import license applied for as stated therein was already issued or about to  be  issued by the Philippine authorities.  And for  that reason as stated by petitioner's manager, Mr.  Guignard, in his deposition said employee "packed the  marcassite stones * *  * and, in  accordance with our practice  hereinafter  described, turned them  over to our forwarder, Messrs.  Jacky, Maeder,  Geneva, a company distinct and separate from our firm, with the instructions to ship the same as soon as we advised him of the receipt  of the  cable of instruction of Mr.  Abella."

The  letter in question  consists  of two pages.  The first page which only shows the statement that a license  has been applied  for  certain  precious  stones including  220 packets  of marcassites "based on your quotation CIF" was introduced as evidence at the rehearing of the seizure proceedings before  the  Collector of  Customs while  the second  page containing the  statement that  "as soon as the license shall come out  for the order I shall cable  you to ship  the above as soon as possible" was presented only during the hearing before the  Court of Tax Appeals.   For ready reference, the letter  is hereunder quoted as follows:
"Dec. 13, 1951

Lausanne, Suisse


Gentlemen :

A license has been applied  for the following  based on  your quotation CIF:

(Five  kinds of precious stones as enumerated including 220 packages of "Real Marcassite Extra Quality" omitted.)

These prices of the white sapphires are based on your quotation you  established in your letter to me  dated August  23, 1950.  I hope that in the absence of your  present quotation of these items, you  will  be square  with  this  firm  in  charging  your  present prices on these white sapphires which I am looking forward to have been further reduced.

As soon as the license shall come out for the  above order I shall cable you  to ship  the above as soon as possible.

Yours truly,
(Sgd.)  C. C. Abella


Please take  notice that the above prices  as  per your letter of Nov. 19th includes freight insurance and other expenses and  to be shipped  by air express.  Please declare the white sapphires in your invoice as "Real White Sapphires".  Omit any classification in your invoice as Imitation, Precious or Semi Precious."
We really do not see how the above letter could have been construed to  mean  that the  application  for license had been favorably acted upon or  that  the  license for the importation of  the  merchandise  in question had already been issued.   The letter is simply worded and we find it hard to believe  that  after dealing  with Abella since  1932, petitioner's employee "who used  to handle  the orders  of Mr. Abella" would make an erroneous  interpretation of it. Besides, if  such letter were the basis of the  mistake made by  petitioner's employee, it has not been explained  why he  packed  only the marcassite stones when there  were many items listed in the said  letter.  Neither has  it  been explained why  petitioner's forwarder, which was given explicit instructions to ship the goods only when advised by petitioner upon the latter's receipt of  the cable  of instruction from  Abella,  "inadvertently  or erroneously shipped the marcassite by  plane without waiting for  petitioner's instructions."

On the other hand, it  is to be observed that Abella gave instructions in his letter not  to ship until  further  notice as may readily be inferred from  his  assurance that "as soon as the license shall come out for the above order I shall cable you to ship the above as soon as possible."  And petitioner itself in its petition filed with the Board, of Tax Appeals on April 1, 1953 stated that "sometime during the month of December 1951, petitioner received an order from one C. C. Abella, 1312 V. Benavidez, San Juan, Rizal, for the purchase of marcassites; that upon receipt of a cablegram informing petitioner that an import license had been obtained the said firm shipped the merchandise by airplane on  or  about January  16,  1952."  Apparently, Abella, as promised  in his  letter,  subsequently sent instructions by cablegram for the shipment of the marcassites.

Finally, according to Abella, he sent a cable to petitioner on February 2, 1952, to stop the shipment  and also wrote to it a letter dated February 9, 1952 asking that the marcassites which were shipped  "inadvertently  or  through mistake" be shipped back.   We also note that the Philippine National Bank, which intervened in the transactions, knew about Abella's  denial as evidenced by  its letter to petitioner dated February 11, 1952.  But oddly enough it took petitioner more than a year before it intervened in the seizure proceedings.  In the circumstances, we are not inclined to  believe that the marcassites were shipped to the Philippines by mistake  or  through inadvertence.

In conclusion, we hold that the forfeiture proceedings conducted in this case  were valid and not null and void for lack of  notice to the "owner" of the merchandise because Abella,  who appears to be the importer and  consequently the "owner" of the merchandise under section 1375 of the Revised Administrative  Code, was duly notified of the seizure and forfeiture proceedings.  And as he did not appeal from the decision of the Collector of Customs dated November  22, 1952,  the  same  has following  the rule enunciated in the case of Sy Man vs. Jacinto,  et al.  (93 Phil.,  1093) already become final and executory.

In view of the foregoing, the decision appealed from is reversed, and the decision of the Commissioner of Customs declaring the forfeiture of the importation in question  in favor of the Government is affirmed.  No pronouncement as to costs.

Paras, C. J.,  Bautista Angelo, Labrador, Concepcion, Reyes, J. B. L.,  Endencia, and Barrera,  JJ., concur.