Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

It has been consistently held by the Supreme Court, in a long line of cases, that before a party is allowed to seek the intervention of the court, it is a pre-condition that he should have availed of all the means of administrative processes afforded him. Hence, if a remedy within the administrative machinery can still be resorted to by giving the administrative officer concerned every opportunity to decide on a matter that comes within his jurisdiction, then such remedy should be exhausted first before the court’s judicial power can be sought. The premature invocation of a court’s intervention is fatal to one’s cause of action as aptly explained by the Supreme Court in the case of University of the Philippines v. Catungal, Jr., et al., (G.R. No. 121863, May 5, 1997), to wit:

“The underlying principle of the rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies rests on the presumption that the administrative agency, if afforded a complete chance to pass upon the matter, will decide the same correctly. There are both legal and practical reasons for the principle. The administrative process is intended to provide less expensive and more speedy solutions to disputes. Where the enabling statute indicates a procedure for administrative review and provides a system of administrative appeal or reconsideration, the courts – for reasons of law, comity, and convenience – will not entertain a case unless the available administrative remedies have been resorted to and the appropriate authorities have been given an opportunity to act and correct the errors committed in the administrative forum.” 

The rule in administrative law is that parties requesting judicial action must first exhaust their remedies in the executive branch. This is premised not only on practical considerations but also on the comity existing between different departments of the government, which comity requires the court to stay their hands until the administrative processes have been completed. (Madrinan vs. Sinco, 110 Phil. 160) Further, under the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, recourse through court action, as a general rule, cannot prosper until all the remedies have been exhausted at the administrative level, (Pacana vs. Consunji, 108 SCRA 631[1981]; Pestañas et al. v. Dyogi, et al., 81 SCRA 574 [1978]; Antonio v. Tanco, 65 SCRA 448 [1975]).

Thus, in Abe-Abe et al. v. Manta (90 SCRA 524, 531 [1979]), the Supreme Court emphatically declared: 

“When an adequate remedy may be had within the Executive Department of the government, but nevertheless, a litigant fails or refuses to avail himself of the same, the judiciary shall decline to interfere. This traditional attitude of the courts is based not only on convenience but likewise on respect; convenience of the party litigants and respect for a co-equal office in the government. If a remedy is available within the administrative machinery, this should be resorted to before resort can be made to (the) court. (citing Cruz vs. Del Rosario, 119 Phil. 63, 66).”

There is no question that a statute may vest exclusive original jurisdiction in an administrative agency over certain disputes and controversies falling within the agency’s special expertise. For example, the constitutionality of such grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board over cases involving the sale of lots in commercial subdivisions was upheld in Tropical Homes Inc. v. National Housing Authority (152 SCRA 540 [1987]) and again sustained in a later decision in Antipolo Realty Corporation v. National Housing Authority (153 SCRA 399 [1987]) where the Supreme Court restated that the HLURB shall have exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the real estate trade and business in accordance with the terms of PD 957 which defines the quantum of judicial or quasi-judicial powers of the said agency.

As a result, the HLURB, in the exercise of its powers and functions, is authorized to interpret and apply contracts, determine the rights of the parties under these contracts, and even award damages, such as moral and exemplary, whenever appropriate. Thus, it has been held that one of the thrusts of the multiplication of administrative agencies is the interpretation of such contracts and agreements and that the determination of private rights under these agreements is no longer a uniquely judicial function.

Moreover, if a remedy is very much available within the administrative machinery of the administrative agency, then this alternative should first be utilized before resort can be made to the courts, not only to give the administrative agency the opportunity to decide the matter by itself correctly, but also to avoid the very pernicious evil the doctrine itself seeks to prevent – the unnecessary and premature resort to courts and the clogging of its dockets.

It is also important to note that the primordial effect of non-compliance and failure to exhaust administrative remedies is that it deprives the complainants of a cause of action, which is, under the Rules of Court, a ground for a motion to dismiss.  Such failure, therefore, is fatal and calls for the dismissal of the case.