355 Phil. 116
“The undersigned counsel’s failure to come on time on 23 May 1995 was due to a heavy traffic at the junction of Abad Santos Avenue and Rizal Avenue caused by a vehicular accident between a delivery truck and a Baliwag Transit bus, and further aggravated by the fact that counsel has to locate this Honorable Court sala, he arrived in Court at 2:30 o’clock after the Court already adjourn.” [Underscoring, supplied]Two days after the filing of the said motion or on May 26, 1995, to be precise, Presiding Judge Leonardo P. Reyes denied the same; ruling, thus:
“DEFENDANTS were declared as in default when they and their counsel failed to appear, despite due notice, at the pre-trial conference on May 23, 1995 at two o’clock in the afternoon. Through counsel, Atty. Atilano Huaben B. Lim, they now want the default order lifted and/or reconsidered.On June 7, 1995, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration but to no avail. It was denied on June 9, 1995, by an Order which stated, that:
The Court is not inclined to agree.
Primarily, the main justification cited by the counsel for his late arrival: heavy traffic, is unacceptable.
Secondly, counsel’s alleged unfamiliarity with this Court’s sala is equally unacceptable.
Thirdly, defendants were also absent, hence, even if counsel’s late presence would be considered, still the pre-trial conference will not push through.
The presence of parties and counsels at the pre-trial is required. In this particular case, there is no showing that a special power of attorney had been executed in favor of counsel.
Fourthly, this case has been pending for sometime and unless expedited, it will be relegated to memory’s bin.
WHEREFORE, for all the foregoing, defendants’ motion to lift order of default is hereby DENIED.
“The Court finds no compelling reason to disturb its Order dated May 26, 1995. Hence, defendants’ motion for reconsideration is hereby regrettably DENIED.”Aggrieved, petitioner went to the Court of Appeals on a Petition for Certiorari. However, on May 22, 1996, the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition, affirmed the questioned Orders and authorized the plaintiff (private respondent herein) to proceed with the presentation of evidence ex parte.
The pivotal issue for determination is: whether the Court of Appeals acted with grave abuse of discretion in upholding the assailed Orders of the lower court declaring petitioner as in default and denying the latter’s motion for reconsideration.I.
HAS THE COURT COURT OF APPEALS ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION, AND THEREFORE AN (sic) REVERSABLE ERROR, IN AFFIRMING THE MAY 26, 1995 AND JUNE 9, 1995 ORDERS OF THE METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT OF MANILA, BRANCH 4, WHICH TOTALLY DEPRIVED PETITIONER’S RIGHT TO ITS DAY IN COURT AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO FULLY PRESENT ITS CASE ON THE MERITS AND NOT BY MERE TECHNICALITIES?II.
HAS THE COURT OF APPEALS ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN ADOPTING THE COURT A QUO’S BASELESS SPECULATION OR PRESUMPTION THAT THE UNDERSIGNED COUNSEL HAS NO ‘SPECIAL AUTHORITY’ ON 23 MAY 1995 PRE-TRIAL?
“Failure to appear at pre-trial conference - A party who fails to appear at a pre-trial conference may be non-suited or considered as in default.” [Underscoring, supplied]In Development Bank vs. Court of Appeals, this Court ratiocinated:
“Consistently with the mandatory character of the pre-trial, the Rules oblige not only the lawyers but the parties as well to appear for this purpose before the Court, and when a party fails to appear at the pre-trial conference (he) may be non-suited or considered as in default. The obligation to appear denotes not simply the personal appearance, or the mere physical presentation by a party of one’s self, but connotes as importantly, preparedness to go into the different subject assigned by law to a pre-trial. And in those instances where a party may not himself be present at the pre-trial, and another person substitutes for him, or his lawyer undertakes to appear not only as an attorney but in substitution of the client’s person, it is imperative for that representative or the lawyer to have “special authority” to make such substantive agreements as only the client otherwise has capacity to make. That “special authority” should ordinarily be in writing or at the very least be “duly established by evidence other than the self-serving assertion of counsel (or the proclaimed representative) himself. Without that special authority, the lawyer or representative cannot be deemed capacitated to appear in place of the party; hence, it will be considered that the latter has failed to put in an appearance at all, and he may therefore “be non-suited” or considered as in default, nothwithstanding his lawyer’s or delegate’s presence.” [Underscoring, supplied]After a careful study and a thorough examination of the pertinent pleadings and supporting documents, we are of the opinion, and so find, that the court a quo and the Court of Appeals erred not in not lifting the order of default under attack.
“Procedural rules are not to be belittled or dismissed simply because their non-observance may have resulted in prejudice to a party’s substantive rights. Like all rules, they are required to be followed except only for the most persuasive of reasons when they may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with the degree of his thoughtlessness in not complying with the procedure prescribed.”In this case under scrutiny, petitioner did not come forward with the most persuasive of reasons for the relaxation of the aforestated rules in point. We agree with the trial court that a heavy traffic was an unacceptable basis for the lifting of the challenged order of default. A contrary rule would result in a “heavy traffic” or clogging of cases which this Court, as the ultimate dispenser of justice, abhors.