The main issue is whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing petitioners’ appeal on the ground that their Appellants’ Brief failed to comply with Section 13, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure as the said brief did not have a subject index, an assignment of errors, and page references to the record in the Statement of Facts.
Petitioners argue that the absence of a subject index in their Appellants’ Brief is not a material deviation from the requirements of Section 13, Rule 44 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure, and that each portion of the 12-page brief was boldly designated to separate each portion.
Moreover, petitioners contend that while the “assignment of errors” was not designated as such in their Appellants’ Brief, the assignment of errors were clearly embodied in the “Issues” thereof, which substantially complies with the rules.
The petition is without merit.
The right to appeal is neither a natural right nor a part of due process; it is merely a statutory privilege, and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law. An appeal being a purely statutory right, an appealing party must strictly comply with the requisites laid down in the Rules of Court.
In regard to ordinary appealed cases to the Court of Appeals, such as this case, Section 13, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the contents of an Appellant’s Brief, thus:
Sec. 13. Contents of appellant’s brief.—The appellant’s brief shall contain, in the order herein indicated, the following:
(a) A subject index of the matter in the brief with a digest of the arguments and page references, and a table of cases alphabetically arranged, textbooks and statutes cited with references to the pages where they are cited;
(b) An assignment of errors intended to be urged, which errors shall be separately, distinctly and concisely stated without repetition and numbered consecutively;
(c) Under the heading “Statement of the Case,” a clear and concise statement of the nature of the action, a summary of the proceedings, the appealed rulings and orders of the court, the nature of the judgment and any other matters necessary to an understanding of the nature of the controversy, with page references to the record;
(d) Under the heading “Statement of Facts,” a clear and concise statement in a narrative form of the facts admitted by both parties and of those in controversy, together with the substance of the proof relating thereto in sufficient detail to make it clearly intelligible, with page references to the record;
(e) A clear and concise statement of the issues of fact or law to be submitted to the court for its judgment;
(f) Under the heading “Argument,” the appellant’s arguments on each assignment of error with page references to the record. The authorities relied upon shall be cited by the page of the report at which the case begins and the page of the report on which the citation is found;
(g) Under the heading “Relief,” a specification of the order or judgment which the appellant seeks; and
(h) In cases not brought up by record on appeal, the appellant’s brief shall contain, as an appendix, a copy of the judgment or final order appealed from.
In this case, the Appellants’ Brief of petitioners did not have a subject index. The importance of a subject index should not be underestimated. De Liano v. Court of Appeals declared that the subject index functions like a table of contents, facilitating the review of appeals by providing ready reference. It held that:
[t]he first requirement of an appellant’s brief is a subject index. The index is intended to facilitate the review of appeals by providing ready reference, functioning much like a table of contents. Unlike in other jurisdictions, there is no limit on the length of appeal briefs or appeal memoranda filed before appellate courts. The danger of this is the very real possibility that the reviewing tribunal will be swamped with voluminous documents. This occurs even though the rules consistently urge the parties to be “brief” or “concise” in the drafting of pleadings, briefs, and other papers to be filed in court. The subject index makes readily available at one’s fingertips the subject of the contents of the brief so that the need to thumb through the brief page after page to locate a party’s arguments, or a particular citation, or whatever else needs to be found and considered, is obviated.
Moreover, the Appellants’ Brief had no assignment of errors, but petitioners insist that it is embodied in the “Issues” of the brief. The requirement under Section 13, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure for an “assignment of errors” in paragraph (b) thereof is different from a “statement of the issues of fact or law” in paragraph (e) thereof. The statement of issues is not to be confused with the assignment of errors, since they are not one and the same; otherwise, the rules would not require a separate statement for each. An assignment of errors is an enumeration by the appellant of the errors alleged to have been committed by the trial court for which he/she seeks to obtain a reversal of the judgment, while the statement of issues puts forth the questions of fact or law to be resolved by the appellate court.
Further, the Court of Appeals found that the Statement of Facts was not supported by page references to the record. De Liano v. Court of Appeals held:
x x x The facts constitute the backbone of a legal argument; they are determinative of the law and jurisprudence applicable to the case, and consequently, will govern the appropriate relief. Appellants should remember that the Court of Appeals is empowered to review both questions of law and of facts. Otherwise, where only a pure question of law is involved, appeal would pertain to this Court. An appellant, therefore, should take care to state the facts accurately though it is permissible to present them in a manner favorable to one party. x x x Facts which are admitted require no further proof, whereas facts in dispute must be backed by evidence. Relative thereto, the rule specifically requires that one’s statement of facts should be supported by page references to the record. Indeed, disobedience therewith has been punished by dismissal of the appeal. Page references to the record are not an empty requirement. If a statement of fact is unaccompanied by a page reference to the record, it may be presumed to be without support in the record and may be stricken or disregarded altogether.
The assignment of errors and page references to the record in the statement of facts are important in an Appellant’s Brief as the absence thereof is a basis for the dismissal of an appeal under Section 1 (f), Rule 50, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, thus:
SECTION 1. Grounds for dismissal of appeal. — An appeal may be dismissed by the Court of Appeals, on its own motion or on that of the appellee, on the following grounds:
x x x x
(f ) Absence of specific assignment of errors in the appellant’s brief, or of page references to the record as required in section 13, paragraphs (a), (c), (d) and (f) of Rule 44.
Rules 44 and 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure are designed for the proper and prompt disposition of cases before the Court of Appeals. Rules of procedure exist for a noble purpose, and to disregard such rules in the guise of liberal construction would be to defeat such purpose. The Court of Appeals noted in its Resolution denying petitioners’ motion for reconsideration that despite ample opportunity, petitioners never attempted to file an amended appellants’ brief correcting the deficiencies of their brief, but obstinately clung to their argument that their Appellants’ Brief substantially complied with the rules. Such obstinacy is incongruous with their plea for liberality in construing the rules on appeal.
De Liano v. Court of Appeals held:
Some may argue that adherence to these formal requirements serves but a meaningless purpose, that these may be ignored with little risk in the smug certainty that liberality in the application of procedural rules can always be relied upon to remedy the infirmities. This misses the point. We are not martinets; in appropriate instances, we are prepared to listen to reason, and to give relief as the circumstances may warrant. However, when the error relates to something so elementary as to be inexcusable, our discretion becomes nothing more than an exercise in frustration. It comes as an unpleasant shock to us that the contents of an appellant’s brief should still be raised as an issue now. There is nothing arcane or novel about the provisions of Section 13, Rule 44. The rule governing the contents of appellants’ briefs has existed since the old Rules of Court, which took effect on July 1, 1940, as well as the Revised Rules of Court, which took effect on January 1, 1964, until they were superseded by the present 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. The provisions were substantially preserved, with few revisions.
In fine, the Court upholds the Resolutions of the Court of Appeals dismissing the appeal of petitioners on the ground that their Appellants’ Brief does not comply with the requirements provided in Section 13, Rule 44 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as the dismissal is supported by Section 1 (f), Rule 50 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and jurisprudence. With the dismissal of the appeal, the other issues raised by petitioners need not be discussed by the Court.