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G.R. No. 97827 February 9, 1993
UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner,
COURT OF APPEALS, HONORABLE RODOLFO A. ORTIZ, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (Branch 89), National Capital Region, Quezon City, Metro Manila, MANUEL ELIZALDE, BALAYEM, MAHAYAG, DUL and LOBO, respondents.
The facts which have drawn the University of the Philippines (UP) from the quiet groves of academia to the judicial arena are as follows:
On August 15-17, 1986, the "International Conference on the Tasaday Controversy and Other Urgent Anthropological Issues" was held at the Philippine Social Science Center in Diliman, Quezon City.
Jerome Bailen, Professor of the University of the Philippines, Department of Anthropology, was the designated conference chairman. He presented therein the "Tasaday Folio," a collection of studies on Tasadays done by leading anthropologists who disputed the authenticity of the Tasaday find and suggested that the "discovery" in 1971 by a team led by former Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN) Minister Manuel Elizalde, Jr. was nothing more than a fabrication made possible by inducing Manobo and T'boli tribesmen to pose as primitive, G-stringed, leaf-clad cave dwellers.
In the same conference, UP history professor, Zeus Salazar, traced in a publication the actual genealogy of the Tasadays to T'boli and Manobo ethnic groups. He likewise presented ABC's "20/20" videotaped television documentary showing interviews with natives claiming to have been asked by Elizalde to pose as Tasadays.
In July 1988, UP allegedly sent Salazar and Bailen to Zagreb, Yugoslavia to attend the 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. There, Salazar and Bailen reiterated their claim that the Tasaday find was a hoax. Their allegations were widely publicized in several dailies.
With these acts and utterances of Bailen and Salazar as well as newspaper reports and commentaries on the matter as bases, on October 27, 1988, Elizalde and Tasaday representatives Balayem, Mahayag, Dul and Lobo, filed a complaint for damages and declaratory relief against Salazar and Bailen before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
On November 24, 1988, UP filed a motion to intervene with supporting memorandum asserting that, having authorized the activities of Bailen and Salazar, it had a duty to protect them as faculty members for acts and utterances made in the exercise of academic freedom. Moreover, it claimed that it was itself entitled to the right of institutional academic freedom.
At the hearing on the motion to intervene on November 28, 1988, the lower court required UP to submit its answer in intervention "to enable the Court to better appreciate the issue of whether or not the motion for leave to intervene . . . should be granted."
On December 5, 1988, Salazar and Bailen filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that: the complaint failed to state a cause of action; the cause of action, if any, had already prescribed; they are protected by the guarantees of free speech and academic freedom; the court had no jurisdiction to grant declaratory relief in a civil action and no justiciable controversy exists.
Said motion to dismiss was denied by the lower court on January 9, 1989. The same court order held that there was no necessity to appoint a guardian ad litem for the Tasaday plaintiffs, granted UP's motion for leave to intervene and admitted UP's answer in intervention dated December 8, 1988.
In the meantime, on February 15, 1989, UP filed a motion to dismiss the complaint but it was stricken off the record in the Order of February 16, 1989. A subsequent motion for reconsideration was likewise denied.
On March 12, 1991, the Court of Appeals rendered a decision dismissing the petition and lifting the temporary restraining order it had earlier issued. It held that the motion to dismiss may not be granted on the ground of insufficiency of cause of action predicated on matters not raised in the complaint. It ruled that the lower court had jurisdiction over the complaint for damages as the action was aimed at recovering relief arising from alleged wrongful acts of the defendants.
1)Whether the acts of the defendants are within the protective mantle of academic freedom guaranteed by the Constitution for which they cannot be made liable for damages.
2)Whether the Tasaday ethnic group is a hoax as the defendants had claimed in a public discussion.
3)Whether Bailen and Salazar infringed on plaintiffs' civil and human rights when they maliciously and falsely spoke and intrigued to present plaintiffs Tasaday as fakers and impostors collaborating in a hoax or fraud upon the public with and under the supervision of plaintiff Elizalde.
Unique Set-up on procedural problem
We are confronted here with a situation wherein an intervenor who made common cause with the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint after filing an answer in intervention and after the original defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint had been denied. What is more striking is the fact that the same intervenor sought the dismissal of a complaint where its interest is not apparent. Moreover, the intervenor founded its motion to dismiss on an extraneous matter which is not even obliquely alluded to in the complaint.
With this unique set-up, we cannot subscribe to private respondents' contention that the resolution of this petition is foreclosed by the principle of res judicata.
While it is true that the instant petition and that in G.R. No. 87248 revolve around the issue of whether or not the lower court correctly denied the motion to dismiss the complaint in Civil Case No. Q-88-1028, there is an aspect of the case which takes it out of the ambit of the principle of res judicata.
The said principle applies when there is, among others, identity of parties and subject matter in two cases. Concededly, the fact that UP is the petitioner herein while Salazar and Bailen were the petitioners in G.R. No. 87248 is not a hindrance to the application of res judicata because the situation is akin to the adding of other parties to a case which had been finally resolved in a previous one. UP was not an original party-defendant in Civil Case No. Q-88-1028, but it intervened and made common cause with Bailen and Salazar in alleging that the case should be dismissed in order to hold inviolate academic freedom, both individual and institutional. There is, therefore, a resultant substantial identity of parties, as both UP, on the one hand, and Bailen and Salazar, on the other hand, represent the same interests in the two petitions.
Following the provisions of Section 5, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court which states that any of the grounds for dismissal provided for in Section I of the same Rule "except improper venue, may be pleaded as an affirmative defense," UP filed a motion for a preliminary hearing on the special defenses, specifically lack of cause of action and lack of jurisdiction over the nature of the action which it pleaded in its answer in intervention. As Section 5 provides, the result would be the same — "as if a motion to dismiss had been filed." It was the lower court's Order of May 15, 1989 ascribing no merit to UP's special defenses, which was first presented to this Court for nullification on the ground of grave abuse of discretion, through the petition for certiorari and prohibition docketed as G.R. No. 88664. The petition having been referred to the Court of Appeals, the propriety of the same Order of May 15, 1989 was resolved against UP by said appellate court on March 12, 1991.
Thus, to hold that res judicata applies to herein facts would be stretching to its limits the requirement of identity of subject matter. Moreover, the fact that the resolution of Civil Case No. Q-88-1028 would inevitably create an impact, not only on the academic community but also on the cultural minorities, we need to scrutinize more closely the validity of the Order denying the motion to dismiss. It bears stressing that res judicata may not be held applicable where justice may have to be sacrificed for the rigid rules of technicality.
Academic freedom vs legal procedures
As its first ground for the allowance of the petition, UP contends that the allegations in the complaint regarding the acts and statements of Bailen and Salazar are "protected by the mantle of the institutional academic freedom of UP and are therefore privileged communications which cannot give rise to any cause of action for damages under Article 26 of the Civil Code in favor of the herein private respondents."
Actually, this ground is a restatement of the two affirmative defenses cited by the petitioner in its answer in intervention. The lower court and the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted these defenses as falling within the purview of Section 1(g), Rule 16 of the Rules of Court which considers as a ground for a motion to dismiss failure of the complaint to state a cause of action.
On the other hand, a cause of action against Bailen and Salazar can be made out from the complaint: their acts and utterances allegedly besmirched the reputation of the plaintiffs as they were shown therein to have staged a fraud. The fact that the "hoax" was played up in the media allegedly aggravated the situation.
This is not to say, however, that UP's intervention was improper. In fact, it eventually proned to be necessary. Coming to the defense of its faculty members, it had to prove that the alleged damaging acts and utterances of Bailen and Salazar were circumscribed by the constitutionally-protected principle of academic freedom. However, it should have championed the cause of Bailen and Salazar in the course of the trial of the case.
This procedural lapse, notwithstanding, no irremediable injury has been inflicted on the petitioner as, during the trial, it may still invoke and prove the special defense of institutional academic freedom as defined in Tangonan v. Paño and in Garcia v. The Faculty Admission Committee, Loyola School of Theology.
Since Bailen and Salazar had defaulted and thereby forfeited their right to notice of subsequent proceedings and to participate in the trial, petitioner's answer in intervention shall be the gauge in determining whether issues have been joined. The fact that the defenses raised in said answer were denied grounds for a motion to dismiss does not affect their value as affirmative defenses in an answer to a complaint within the purview of Section 5(b), Rule 6 of the Rules of Court. The Order of May 15, 1989 merely "denied" petitioner's affirmative defenses as grounds for a motion to dismiss. Moreover, under Section 4, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court, the failure of some defendants to answer cannot prevent the court from trying the case noon the answer filed and thereafter rendering judgment on the basis of the evidence presented.
Scientific breakthrough vs legal procedures
With respect to the prayer of the complaint for "judgment declaring plaintiff Tasadays to be a distinct ethnic community within the territory defined under Presidential Proclamation No. 995" the lower court is cautioned that the same is akin to a prayer for a judicial declaration of Philippine citizenship which may not be granted in a petition for declaratory relief. 26 As private respondents themselves declare in their comment, "(t)he complaint was filed mainly to vindicate plaintiffs' dignity and honor, and to protect them from further vexation.
More explicitly in their comment in CA-G.R. SP No. 18074 before the Court of Appeals, they declared:
Plaintiffs below do not ask the court to rule on so-called scientific or anthropological issues, nor to interpret scientific or anthropological findings pertaining to the Tasaday. They merely ask the court to find from the evidence to be presented below — Whether or not Bailen and Salazar infringed on plaintiffs' civil and human rights when they maliciously and falsely spoke and intrigued to present plaintiffs Tasaday as fakers and impostors collaborating in a hoax or fraud upon the public with and under the supervision of plaintiff Elizalde.
Indeed, it is not the province of the court to make pronouncements on matters beyond its ken and expertise. To be sure, in resolving the complaint for damages, the court may find congruence in what is justiciable and what falls within the field of the sciences. Still, it is best to keep in mind that its proper role and function is the determination of legal issues.
WHEREFORE, the questioned Order of the lower court and the Decision of the Court of Appeals are hereby AFFIRMED. The lower court is directed to PROCEED with the hearing of the case with DISPATCH even as it observes caution in the resolution of Civil Case No. Q-88-1028. No-costs.
Case Digest by cbcabalza 4/13/11