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[ GR No. L-43741, Oct 28, 1977 ]



170 Phil. 261


[ G.R. No. L-43741, October 28, 1977 ]




The Court annuls respondent commission's decision and reinstates the referee's award of disability compensation benefits on the fundamental ground of the commission's loss of jurisdiction and authority to set aside the award that was already final and exe­cutory for lapse of the reglementary periods for appeal and for re­lief from judgment.

The referee's decision-award of October 30, 1975 granted petitioner Regina Bilbao's claim against respondent Republic (Bureau of Public Schools) in the sum of P5,444.79 as disability compensation benefits (due to her ailments of hypertension, myocarditis and rheumatoid arthritis as confirmed by the Compensation Rating Medical Officer who examined claimant on October 28, 1975, which were contracted by her during her employment as classroom teacher from 1933 until she stopped working due to physical disability on Au­gust 13, 1974) and ordered respondent to pay the sum of P55.00 as administrative fees.

Copy of the referee's decision was admittedly received by respondent through the Office of the Solicitor General on De­cember 11, 1975.  Respondent failed to take an appeal to the com­mission within the reglementary 15-day period[1] "due to the vo­lume and heavy pressure of work" and belatedly filed its "Petition to Elevate Records for Relief from Judgment" dated January 15, 1976 beyond the ultimate 30-day grace period from knowledge/notice of the decision prescribed by the Commission Rules for the purpose.[2]

Respondent commission nevertheless took cognizance of the case and treating sub silentio the petition for relief as if the case had been timely appealed to it, rendered its decision of Feb­ruary 13, 1976 setting aside the "decision appealed" and dismissed the claim "for lack of merit".

Hence, the petition at bar which must be granted because the commission no longer had jurisdiction and authority to set aside the referee's decision that was already final and executory due to the lapse of the statutory periods for appeal and for relief from judgment.

Respondent's contention that the commission exercised its authority under the Workmen's Compensation Act of resolving the claim "without regard to technicalities or legal forms" is untenable since the statutory periods for appeal and for relief from judgment are not mere technicalities but go to its very jurisdiction.

Respondent commission itself (in contrast to the case at bar) had correctly denied similar belated petitions for relief from judgment filed by the Solicitor General in the Luzon Stevedoring Corporation[3] cases finding no merit in the contention that volume and pressure of work had prevented the taking of a timely appeal as such ground is "not among those provided for by the Rules of the Commission" and ruling that at any rate "the commission has no longer any jurisdiction to review the decision(s), the same being already final and executory." As held by this Court in the said cases, the lapse of the 30-day reglementary period from knowledge or notice of judgment within which to avail of the statutory last chance to file a timely petition for relief from judgment for the grounds and reasons stated in the Rule is fatal.

The Court has consistently adhered to this settled doctrine of finality of judgments that "(the) basic rule of finality of judg­ments is applicable indiscriminately to one and all and regardless of whether respondent employer be a public or private employer, since the rule is grounded on fundamental considerations of public policy and sound practice that at risk of occasional error, the judgment of courts and award of quasi-judicial agencies must be­come final at some definite date fixed by law," and "(I)t is of course beyond question that the perfection of an appeal within the statutory or reglementary period is mandatory and jurisdictional and that failure to so perfect an appeal renders final and executory the ques­tioned decision and deprives the appellate court of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.  The lapse of the appeal period deprives the courts of jurisdiction to alter the final judgment."[4]

The commission's questioned decision reversing the final and executory judgment-award in favor of petitioner-claimant must therefore be set aside as null and void for lack of jurisdiction and authority on its part to render the same, and such declaration of nullity may be made either in a regular appeal or in a special civil action of certiorari filed within the prescriptive period.[5]

ACCORDINGLY, judgment is hereby render­ed setting aside as null and void respondent commission's decision and reinstating the referee's decision-award in favor of petitioner.[6] SO ORDERED.

Makasiar, Muñoz Palma, Martin, Fernandez, and Guerrero, JJ., concur.

[1] Sections 49 and 50, Workmen's Compensation Act, Rule 19, sec. 1, 1973 Workmen's Compen­sation Commission Revised Rules.

[2] Rule 22, sec. 3, 1973 Workmen's Compensation Commission Revised Rules.

[3] Luzon Stevedoring Corp. vs. Reyes, et al., 71 SCRA 655, 658 (June 30, 1976).

[4] Quintos, et al. vs. Republic, L-46249-52, August 31, 1977, citing Soliven vs. Workmen's Compensa­tion Commission, L-44763, June 30, 1977, and other cases.

[5] Idem.

[6] No attorney's fees were awarded by the referee, as petitioner was not assisted by counsel or repre­sentative.  In the present case, contempt and other proceedings are pending against Messrs. JAIME A. JAKOSALEM who filed the petition as "attorney" and MAGDALENO E. JAKOSALEM who "notarized" the petition for representing themselves to be members of the Philippine Bar when the re­cords do not show that they are such members, but have been held up due to the failure of the NBI to locate them at their given addresses and elsewhere.