Home Bankers Savings and Trust Company v. CA (G.R. No. 115412)

Facts:

Victor Tancuan issued Petitioner Home Bankers Savings and Trust Company a check while Eugene Arriesgado issued Private Respondent Far East Bank and Trust Company three checks; both checks totaling the amount of P25,250,000.00. Tancuan and Arriesgado exchanged each other’s checks and deposited them with their respective banks for collection. When FEBTC presented Tancuan’s HBSTC check for clearing, it was dishonored for being DAIF. Meanwhile, HBSTC sent Arriesgado’s 3 FEBTC checks through the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC) to FEBTC but was returned for being DAIF. HBSTC receive the notice of dishonor but refused to accept the checks and returned them to FEBTC through the PCHC for the reason “Beyond Reglementary Period,” implying that HBSTC already treated the 3 checks as cleared and allowed the proceeds thereof to be withdrawn. FEBTC demanded reimbursement for the returned checks and inquired from HBSTC whether it had permitted any withdrawal of funds against the unfunded checks. HBSTC, however refused to make any reimbursement and to provide FEBTC with the needed information. Thus, FEBTC submitted the dispute for arbitration before the PCHC Arbitration Committee, under its Supplementary Rules on Regional Clearing to which FEBTC and HBSTC are bound as participants in the regional clearing operations administered by the PCHC. While the arbitration proceeding was still pending, FEBTC filed an action for sum of money and damages with preliminary attachment against HBSTC. HBSTC moved to dismiss on the ground that there is no cause of action and because it seeks to enforce an arbitral award which as yet does not exist. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the motion for reconsideration. Petitioner then filed a petition for certiorari with respondent CA to which it had dismissed.

Issue:

Whether or not private respondent which commenced an arbitration proceeding under the auspices of the PCHC may subsequently file a separate case in court over the same subject matter despite the pendency of that arbitration, simply to obtain the provisional remedy of attachment against the adverse party in the arbitration proceeding.

Ruling:

We find no merit in the petition. Section 14 of Republic Act 876, otherwise known as the Arbitration Law, allows any party to the arbitration proceeding to petition the court to take measures to safeguard and/or conserve any matter which is the subject of the dispute in arbitration.

Petitioner’s exposition of the foregoing provision deserves scant consideration. Section 14 simply grants an arbitrator the power to issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum at any time before rendering the award. The exercise of such power is without prejudice to the right of a party to file a petition in court to safeguard any matter which is the subject of the dispute in arbitration. In the case at bar, private respondent filed an action for a sum of money with prayer for a writ of preliminary attachment. Undoubtedly, such action involved the same subject matter as that in arbitration, i.e., the sum of P25,200,000.00 which was allegedly deprived from private respondent in what is known in banking as a “kiting scheme.” However, the civil action was not a simple case of a money claim since private respondent has included a prayer for a writ of preliminary attachment, which is sanctioned by section 14 of the Arbitration Law.

Simply put, participants in the regional clearing operations of the Philippine Clearing House Corporation cannot bypass the arbitration process laid out by the body and seek relief directly from the courts. In the case at bar, undeniably, private respondent has initiated arbitration proceedings as required by the PCHC rules and regulations, and pending arbitration has sought relief from the trial court for measures to safeguard and/or conserve the subject of the dispute under arbitration, as sanctioned by section 14 of the Arbitration Law, and otherwise not shown to be contrary to the PCHC rules and regulations.

At this point, we emphasize that arbitration, as an alternative method of dispute resolution, is encouraged by this Court. Aside from unclogging judicial dockets, it also hastens solutions especially of commercial disputes. The Court looks with favor upon such amicable arrangement and will only interfere with great reluctance to anticipate or nullify the action of the arbitrator. Wherefore, premises considered, the petition is hereby dismissed and the decision of the court a quo is affirmed.

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