On August 4, 1960, the Collector of Customs sent a notice to C.F. Sharp & Company as alleged operator of M/S “Doña Nati” informing it that said vessel was apprehended and found to have committed a violation of the customs laws and regulations in that it carried an unmanifested cargo consisting of one RCA Victor TV set 21″ in violation of Section 2521 of the Tariff and Customs Code.
Dr. Basilio de Leon, official doctor of M/S “Doña Nati” readily admitted ownership of the same.
A. V. Rocha, the local agent and operator of National Development Company (NDC), the owner of steamship “S.S. Doña Nati”, answered the notice stating, among other things, that the television set referred to therein was not a cargo of the vessel and, therefore, was not required by law to be manifested.
Rocha stated further: “If this explanation is not sufficient, we request that this case be set for investigation and hearing in order to enable the vessel to be informed of the evidence against it to sustain the charge and to present evidence in its defense.”
Unsatisfied by the explanation, the Collector imposed a fine of P5,000.00 on the vessel and ordered payment thereof within 48 hours with a threat that he will deny clearance to said vessel and will issue a warrant of seizure and detention against it if the fine is not paid.
NDC and A. V. Rocha filed a special civil action of certiorari with preliminary injunction before the CFI of Manila against the Collector of Customs on the ground of excess of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion in imposing the fine of P5,000.00 on the vessel without the benefit of an investigation or hearing as requested.
The court ruled in favour of NDC and Rocha, and issued ex parte the writ prayed for upon the filing of a bond.
Hence, the present appeal.
Whether or not there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Collector of Customs.
We find this action proper for it really appears that petitioner Rocha was not given an opportunity to prove that the television set complained of is not a cargo that needs to be manifested as required by Section 2521 of the Tariff and Customs Code (TCC).
Under the TCC, there are other effects that a vessel may carry that are excluded from the requirement of the law, among which are the personal effects of the members of the crew.
The act of the collector in immediately imposing upon the vessel the huge fine is a denial of the elementary rule of due process.
True it is that the proceedings before the Collector of Customs are not judicial in character, but merely administrative, where the rules of procedure are generally disregarded, but even in the administrative proceedings due process should be observed because that is a right enshrined in our Constitution. The right to due process is not merely statutory. It is a constitutional right.
As elaborated upon by this Court in the Ang Tibay case as follows:
… The fact, however, that the Court of Industrial Relations may be said to be free from the rigidity of certain procedural requirements does not mean that it can, in justiciable case coming before it, entirely ignore or disregard the fundamental and essential requirements of due process in trials and investigations of an administrative character.
… There are cardinal primary rights which must be respected even in proceedings of this character. The first of these rights is the right to a hearing, which includes the right of the party interested or affected to present his own case and submit evidence in support thereof. Not only must the party be given an opportunity to present his case and to adduce evidence tending to establish the rights which he asserts but the tribunal must consider the evidence presented.
It is undisputed that respondent collector has acted in utter disregard of the principle of due process.