Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips

  View printer friendly version

467 Phil. 766


[ G.R. No. 153432, February 18, 2004 ]




The rules of procedure are designed to ensure a fair, orderly and expeditious disposition of cases; however, the rules are not meant to allow hasty judgments at the price of great injustice. Where a strict and unflinching reliance on technical rules will defeat their real objective, and where the non-observance thereof is neither deliberate nor with intent to cause any undue delay by a party, a liberal construction of those rules would be becoming, if not compelling, at times.

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari, assailing the judgment of the Court of Appeals which has upheld the order of default issued by the court a quo. The case has originated from Civil Case No. 23482, entitled "Oscar P. Mosquera vs. Bahia Shipping Services, Cynthia Mendoza and Red Band A/S" before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 29, of Iloilo City. The appellate court gives its narration of the controversy.
"Respondent Oscar Mosquera filed his Complaint against petitioners with the Regional Trial Court in Iloilo City on February 28, 1997 which was docketed as Civil Case No. 23482 and assigned to Branch 29, the sala of the respondent judge.

“Herein petitioner Bahia Shipping filed a Motion to Dismiss, questioning, among others, the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court which motion was eventually denied by the respondent judge in an Order dated May 8, 1997. A Motion for Reconsideration was filed, but the same was also denied in an Order dated June 18, 1997.

“Petitioners initiated certiorari proceedings with the appellate courts questioning the refusal of the respondent judge to dismiss the case entitled `Bahia Shipping Services Inc., Ma. Cynthia Mendoza and Red Band A/S vs. Hon. Rene Honrado, Presiding Judge Regional Trial Court of Iloilo, and Oscar P. Mosquera’ docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 45282. The same was dismissed by the Court of Appeals and taken on appeal by certiorari with the Supreme Court.

“In the meantime, petitioners filed their Answer in the case a quo.

“Eventually, the case was scheduled for pre-trial on September 17, 1997.

“On September 11, 1997, petitioners filed a manifestation with motion to defer pre-trial proceedings in view of the certiorari petition that had been filed with the Court of Appeals and to ensure that the pre-trial would indeed be deferred, [the law office (for herein petitioners) (supplied)] called up the sala of respondent judge for confirmation. It was confirmed by the court personnel, particularly, the Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Elizabeth Sumague-Payba - that there was no need to file the pre-trial brief yet nor to attend the scheduled pre-trial because the respondent judge would first rule on the Motion of September 11, 1997.

“Specifically, when the [law office (for petitioners) (supplied)] — through then handling lawyer, Atty. Ruben R. Capahi — called up the sala of respondent judge, it was Atty. Sumague-Payba who answered the phone. She put Atty. Capahi on hold while she went to confer with respondent judge. Afterwards, she got back on the phone and told Atty. Capahi that, in view of the motion filed, there was, as yet, no need to file the pre-trial brief and attend the scheduled pre-trial conference on September 17, 1997. In fact, in a subsequent occasion, when Atty. Capahi called the sala of respondent judge to find out the status of the case, he was able to talk to respondent judge himself, and the latter confirmed that he had indeed advised that such pre-trial brief was not needed to be filed at that time and neither was it necessary for the parties and counsels to attend the September 17, 1997 schedule.

“On September 17, 1997, however, despite his advice to petitioners' counsel, respondent judge apparently proceeded with the pre-trial hearing and subsequently, respondent Mosquera filed a motion to declare petitioners as in default to which the latter vigorously opposed the same.

“On January 6, 1998, petitioners, through counsel, received the Order dated December 11, 1997 declaring them as in default for their failure to file their pre-trial brief and to attend the pre-trial on September 11, 1997.

“Petitioners filed a verified Motion for Reconsideration dated January 15, 1998 together with an Affidavit of Merit, a separate Affidavit by Atty. Capahi, as well as their pre-trial brief to which private respondent filed an Opposition thereto. Thereafter, petitioners filed a reply to the opposition."[1]
The motion for reconsideration having been denied in the order, dated 27 July 2001, of the trial court, petitioners raised the issue before the Court of Appeals. The appellate court, on 05 December 2001, sustained the ruling of the court a quo, by dismissing the appeal, now the subject of the instant petition for review.

The petition is meritorious.

Pre-trial is that stage of the proceedings when the last pleading has been filed and the parties explore possible ways to avoid a protracted trial, including the possibility of an amicable settlement or a summary judgment, the submission of the case to alternative modes of dispute resolution, a stipulation of facts, or the limitation of the number of witnesses. Whereas pre-trial has before been optional, the new rules of civil procedure now make it mandatory such that the failure of a party to appear at pre-trial is deemed to be a waiver of his right to present evidence in his behalf —
“Section 5. Effect of failure to appear. — The failure of the plaintiff to appear when so required pursuant to the next preceding section shall be cause for dismissal of the action. The dismissal shall be with prejudice, unless otherwise ordered by the court. A similar failure on the part of the defendant shall be cause to allow the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof.”[2]
The seeming severity of the rule notwithstanding, it, nevertheless, is not unyielding. Like all rules of procedure, it admits of exceptions for valid and justifiable reasons.[3]

Petitioner is a corporation, with business address in Cebu City, represented by the law firm of Sycip Salazar Hernandez and Gatmaitan in the case pending before the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo City. The lawyer assigned by the law firm to see to the case in Iloilo City has, during scheduled hearings, yet to embark on an inter-island travel, either by boat or by plane, at the expense of the client. An out-of-town hearing, expending, as it so does, more than the usual time, energy, resources and personnel than would ordinarily be required, might indeed make it prudent for the law firm to first ascertain and confirm, as much as it can be helped, the court schedule and trial.

The firm’s counsel, Atty. Ruben R. Capahi, through long-distance telephone communication, was able to converse with Atty. Sumague-Payba, the branch clerk of court, who, after conferring with respondent judge, confirmed the postponement of the pre-trial and the filing of the pre-trial brief in view of the motion to defer the proceedings and the pending appeal of petitioner. Still, in order to be absolutely sure, Atty. Capahi sought at a later date a re-confirmation of the postponement from respondent judge himself. It should be noteworthy that neither the honorable judge, in his order declaring petitioner in default and in his subsequent order denying the motion for reconsideration thereto, nor his clerk of court refuted the incidents attributed to them. It would not thus be right for the appellate court to conjecture otherwise.

It is not to say, however, that adherence to the rules could be dispensed with lightly but that, rather, exigencies and situations might occasionally demand flexibility in their application. Substantial justice in this instance can be best served if a full opportunity is given to both parties to litigate their dispute and submit the merits of their respective positions.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED and the decision of the appellate court in C.A.-G.R. No. 66693 is set aside. Let the case be remanded to the court a quo for further proceedings and a trial on the merits. No costs.


Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 27-29.

[2] Rule 18, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

[3] Insular Veneer, Inc. v. Plan, G.R. No. L-40155, 10 September 1976, 73 SCRA 1.

© Supreme Court E-Library 2019
This website was designed and developed, and is maintained, by the E-Library Technical Staff in collaboration with the Management Information Systems Office.