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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)

G.R. No. L-40307 April 15, 1988 Defendant presented as its exhibits, Exhibit "1", a cash voucher dated February
FILOIL MARKETING CORPORATION (now Petrophil 16,1965, which was admitted by the plaintiff, Exhibits "2" and "3" letters of
Corporation), plaintiff/appellee, vs. DY PAC & CO., INC., defendant/appellant. defendant Filoil Marketing Corporation, both of which were also admitted by the
plaintiff.
This case was certified to us by the Court of Appeals in its Resolution dated 20 February
1975, as one raising only questions of law. The Court finds that this is just a matter of adjustment of accounts by the plaintiff
and the defendant, who are hereby ordered to prepare a stipulation of facts
On 19 March 1969, an action for collection of a sum of money with interest was based on their exhibits already marked and submit the same to the Court within
commenced by plaintiff Filoil Marketing Corporation (now Petrophil Corporation) in the thirty (30) days from today. It is also ordered that in the stipulation of facts, the
City Court of Manila against defendant Dy Pac & Co., Inc., alleging that from 1961 to parties define the issues to be resolved by the Court and if they are submitting
1965, plaintiff had sold and delivered on credit petroleum products to defendant, who the case for decision on the basis of their exhibits. The parties are warned that if
became indebted to it in the total amount of P 2,123.69; that notwithstanding repeated they cannot submit the stipulation off acts, the Court will dismiss the appeal, the
demands, defendant refused to pay. case having been filed on August 14, 1969 and up to the present no trial has
been conducted. 2 (Emphasis supplied)
In its Answer with Counterclaim, defendant Dy Pac & Co., Inc., admitted the credit
transactions alleged by plaintiff but denied indebtedness, alleging lack of cause of action, In a subsequent Order dated 24 May 1973, the trial court dismissed defendant's appeal
payment and prescription. for failure of the parties to submit the required stipulation of facts and ordered the
immediate return of the records to the City Court for execution.
At the hearing set on 17 June 1969, neither defendant nor his counsel appeared; plaintiff
was allowed to present its evidence ex parte, and accordingly, the City Court of Manila, A subsequent motion to reconsider the order of dismissal having been denied,
Branch 3, rendered a decision on the same date ordering defendant to pay plaintiff the defendant-appellant took this appeal to the Court of Appeals, which, as already noted,
sum of P2,123.69 plus 6% interest thereon, attorney's fees and costs. certified the case to us as involving only questions of law. This case, without an
appellee's brief, was submitted for decision on 17 March 1975.
Upon denial of its motion for reconsideration, defendant appealled to the Court of First
Instance of Manila, which appeal was subsequently assigned to Branch 19 thereof. Appellant claimed, in its brief, that it was deprived of its day in court and urged that the
trial court erred (a) in dismissing its appeal on the ground that the parties failed to submit
By 30 January 1973, the lower court, in accordance with Republic Act No. a stipulation of facts and (b) in finding that defendant's counsel had not filed his authority
6031, 1 immediately set the case for pre-trial, with a warning that no further postponements to appear during pre- trial. 3
would be granted.
We find merit in this appeal.
On 23 March 1973, the lower court issued a pre-trial order, the fun text of which follows:
There is no law which compulsorily requires litigants to stipulate at pre-trial on the facts
When this case was called for pre-trial, the parties were duly represented by their and issues that may possibly crop up in a particular case, upon pain of dismissal of such
respective counsel. Filoil Marketing was represented also by Mr. Rodolfo case. The process of securing admissions whether of facts or evidence is essentially
Bondoc, Accountant. Counsel for defendant manifested that he is duly authorized voluntary, since stipulations of facts, like contracts, bind the parties thereto who are not
to enter into this pre-trial and promises to submit said authority within three (3) allowed to controvert statements made therein. The trial court may, of course, advise and
days from today, as required by the Rules, otherwise, the Court will not recognize indeed urge the parties during the pre-trial conference to try to arrive at a stipulation of
his authority for pre-trial. The plaintiff duly adopted his exhibits already marked in facts principally for their own convenience and to simplify subsequent proceedings by
the lower court and also adopted the markings in said court. In addition, he asked Identifying those facts which are not really controverted and do not need to be proved.
that the decision in the City Court, found on page 17 of the records, be marked Courts, however, cannot compel the parties to enter into an agreement upon the facts.
as Exhibits "F" and that the letter addressed to the defendant dated February 7, Where the parties are unable to arrive at a stipulation of agreed facts and do not reach
1968 be marked as Exhibit "G" to "G-". These were all admitted by the defendant. an amicable settlement of their controversy, the court must close the pre-trial
proceedings and go forward with the trial of the case. The court a quo, therefore,
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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)
committed serious or reversible error in dismissing appellant's appeal from the then City a. Cases in the Regional Trial Courts where the amount involved is above
Court of Manila solely upon the ground that the parties had failed to comply with the P10,000.00 up to P20,000.00 exclusive of interest and costs shall remain therein
court's Order to submit a stipulation of facts. The trial court's desire speedily to dispose even though the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, the Municipal Trial
of the case which had been pending for almost four (4) years in that sala is Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Court has been increased to P20,000.00;
understandable and praiseworthy; but it cannot justify the Order of dismissal.
Defendant's appeal from the decision of the City Court of Manila was entitled to a regular xxx xxx xxx (Emphasis supplied)
trial; under Section 45 of Republic Act No. 296 (the Judiciary Act of 1948) as amended
by Republic Act No. 6031, the defendant-appellant was entitled to have its affirmative this case should remain with and be remanded to the Court of First Instance of Manila.
defenses and counterclaim passed upon by the Court of First Instance in a trial de novo.
It is perhaps noteworthy that defendant-appellant had never been afforded the benefit of
ACCORDINGLY, the Order dated 24 May 1973 of the Court of First Instance of Manila,
a trial, even by the City Court which had rendered its judgment on the evidence of the
dismissing the appeal of defendant-appellant, is hereby SET ASIDE. This case is
plaintiff submitted ex parte. We hold that the trial court's Order of 24 May 1973 in effect
REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court of Manila for trial on the merits. No
denied defendant-appellant its right to due process and must hence be set aside.
pronouncement as to costs.
Under Section 33 (1) of B.P. Blg. 129, a suit for the collection of a sum of money not
SO ORDERED.
exceeding P20,000.00 would fall within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the
Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts.
This case, however, was pending before the Court of First Instance of Manila on 14
February 1983, while this appeal remained before this Court where it has been since 17
March 1975.

Applying the Resolution of this Court en banc dated 14 February 1983, which established
guidelines for the distribution of cases pending upon implementation of B.P. Blg. 129 and
which provided in pertinent part as follows:

I. PENDING CASES AS OF FEBRUARY 14, 1983:

General Rule. — All pending cases as of February 14,1983 shall be distributed,


by raffle, among all branches in a multiple sala seat with incumbent judges
except as herein provided:

xxx xxx xxx

3. All pending cases in the Regional Trial Courts (under the former Judiciary Act,
the Courts of First Instance, Circuit Criminal Courts, Juvenile and Domestic
Relations Court and Court of Agrarian Relations) shall remain with the Regional
Trial Courts even though there may have been a change of jurisdiction provided
in Batas Pambansa Blg. 129.

By way of example:

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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)
G.R. No. 164375 October 12, 2006 the father of the counsel for petitioners, was present in court along with the other
RODOLFO PAREDES, TITO ALAGO AND AGRIPINO BAYBAY, SR., petitioners, vs. defendants, when the case was called on 11 November 2003. The RTC was informed
ERNESTO VERANO and COSME HINUNANGAN, respondent. then of a proposed settlement between the parties, although respondent Baybay
qualified his reaction by telling the court that he would first have to inform his lawyer and
The central issue in this case is whether the absence of the counsel for defendants at the the co-defendants of the said proposal. The RTC then commented unfavorably on the
pre-trial, with all defendants themselves present, is a ground to declare defendants in absence of petitioners' counsel, expressing disappointment towards his attitude, even
default and to authorize plaintiffs to present evidence ex parte. making note of the fact that not once had the counsel appeared before the RTC, even
though the case had already reached the Supreme Court over the denial of the motion to
The relevant facts are uncomplicated. dismiss.10 At the same time, the RTC acceded and reset the pre-trial for 23 January
2004.11
The protracted legal battle between the parties began with a complaint for the
establishment of a right of way filed by petitioners herein as plaintiffs against Shortly before the new pre-trial date, counsel for petitioners filed a Manifestation of
respondents as defendants.1 The complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 2767 of the Willingness to Settle With Request for Cancellation dated 5 January 2004.12 Apart from
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Maasin City, Southern Leyte, Branch 24, culminated in a manifesting his willingness to settle the complaint, petitioners' counsel through the
judgment by compromise dated 26 April 1994.2 In the Compromise Agreement, Manifestation suggested to the opposing counsel that he be informed of the terms of the
respondent Cosme Hinunangan granted a two (2) meter-wide right of way in favor of proposed settlement. Correspondingly, petitioners' counsel requested the cancellation of
petitioners in consideration of the amount of P6,000.00 which petitioners agreed to pay.3 the 23 January 2004 hearing.

Alleging that petitioners had blocked the passage way in violation of the Compromise However, the hearing did push through on 23 January 2004. The private respondents
Agreement, on 28 September 1999, respondents filed a complaint for specific and their counsel were present. So were petitioners Baybay and Paderes, and co-
performance with damages against petitioners. It was docketed as Civil Case No. R- defendant Alago, but not their counsel.
3111 also of the RTC of Maasin City, Southern Leyte, Branch 24.4
An order of even date formalized what had transpired during the hearing. The RTC
In their answer, petitioners denied having violated the Compromise Agreement. They allowed respondents to present their evidence ex parte, "for failure of the defendants [']
alleged that like them, respondents were not actual residents of Barangay Tagnipa counsel to appear before [the RTC]".13 Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration, but
where the "road right of way" was established and that respondent Cosme Hinunangan this was denied by the RTC.14
had already sold his only remaining lot in the vicinity to petitioner Rodolfo Paderes.5
Thus, petitioners filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals, assailing the
Subsequent to the answer, petitioners filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of lack of orders of the RTC. However, on 28 April 2004, the Court of Appeals dismissed the
cause of action.6 The trial court, presided by Judge Bethany G. Kapili, denied the motion petition outright,15 for failure to attach duplicate original copies of the annexes to the
to dismiss.7 Petitioners elevated the order of denial to the Court of Appeals and petition other than the RTC Orders dated 23 January 2004 and 17 February 2004
thereafter to this Court, both to no avail.8 (attaching photocopies instead), as well as for failure to submit such other pleadings
relevant and pertinent to the petition. Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration with
Motion to Admit Additional Exhibits, adverting to the documents previously missing from
Petitioners asked Judge Kapili to inhibit himself from the case. The judge denied the
the petition but attached to the motion.
motion.9
On 13 July 2004, the Court of Appeals issued a Resolution denying the motion for
Pre-trial was initially set for 24 April 2003, but this was reset to 3 June 2003 on motion of
reconsideration. In doing so, the Court of Appeals resolved the petition on its merits, as it
respondents' counsel. But the pre-trial set on 3 June 2003 did not push through either
ruled that "even with the submission by petitioners of the required pleadings and
because none of the parties appeared.
documents, the instant petition must nevertheless fail."16 The appellate court quoted
extensively from the transcripts of the hearings of 11 November 2003 and 23 January
So, pre-trial was reset to 11 November 2003. Petitioner Baybay's counsel moved to reset 2004. It conceded that under Section 5, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, it
it to another date on account of a conflicting hearing. However, petitioner Baybay, who is is the failure of the defendant, and not defendant's counsel, to appear at the pre-trial that
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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)
would serve cause to allow plaintiff to present evidence ex parte. Nevertheless, the Court dismissible for such procedural infirmities, yet it nonetheless proceeded to rule against
of Appeals noted that petitioner Baybay had made it clear that he would never enter into the petitioner on the merits. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court that the
any amicable settlement without the advice of his counsel. Thus, the Court of Appeals petition was procedurally infirm, yet found partial merit in its arguments and consequently
concluded that Judge Kapili's "hands were tied," explaining, thus: "He was held hostage granted partial relief in favor of the petitioner. In this case, the Court of Appeals, in
by the blatant display of arrogance exhibited by petitioner's counsel in assiduously failing resolving the motion for reconsideration, proceeded to make a judgment on the merits.
to appear before the trial court. Were he to close his eyes to the reprehensible scheme of Similarly, this Court finds ample basis to review the decision of the trial court as affirmed
Atty. Baybay in delaying the disposition of the main case, the resulting impassé would by the appellate court, notwithstanding the procedural flaw that originally accompanied
only strain further the meager resources of the court and prejudice the rights of private the petition—a flaw which petitioners did seek to remedy when they belatedly attached
respondents."17 the relevant documents to their motion for reconsideration.

The Court of Appeals then cited Sps. Ampeloquio, Sr. v. Court of Appeals,18 wherein the Ultimately, there are important reasons to consider the case on the merits. This case
Court held that if every error committed by the trial court were to be a proper object of affords the Court the opportunity to clarify the authority granted to a trial judge in relation
review by certiorari, then trial would never come to an end and the appellate court to pre-trial proceedings.
dockets would be clogged with petitions challenging every interlocutory order of the trial
court. It concluded that the acts of Judge Kapili did not constitute grave abuse of The order of the RTC allowing respondents to present evidence ex parte was
discretion equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. undoubtedly to the detriment of petitioners. Since the RTC would only consider the
evidence presented by respondents, and not that of petitioners, the order strikes at the
Finally, the trial court admonished petitioners' counsel to "bear in mind that as an officer heart of the case, disallowing as it does any meaningful defense petitioners could have
of the court, he is tasked to observe the rules of procedure, not to unduly delay a case posed. A judgment of default against a defendant who failed to attend pre-trial, or even
and defeat the ends of justice but to promote respect for the law and legal processes."19 any defendant who failed to file an answer, implies a waiver only of their right to be heard
and to present evidence to support their allegations but not all their other rights.24
We reverse the trial court and the Court of Appeals.
The Constitution guarantees that no person shall be deprived of property without due
A preliminary observation. The Court of Appeals had initially dismissed the petition process of law. One manner by which due process is assured is through the faithful
lodged by petitioners on account of their failure to attach several relevant pleadings, adherence to the procedural rules that govern the behavior of the party-litigants. The
citing Section 3, Rule 46 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Before this Court, Rules of Court do sanction, on several instances, penalties for violation of the Rules that
petitioners devote some effort in arguing that the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing causes the termination of an action without a ruling on the merits, or bars one party from
the petition on that procedural ground, while respondents in their comment similarly litigating the same while permitting the other to do so. We noted earlier that Section 3,
undertook to defend the appellate court's action on that point. We do not doubt that Rule 46 authorizes the dismissal of an original petition before the Court of Appeals for
under Section 3, Rule 46 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court of Appeals has failure to append material portions of the record. Pursuant to Section 5, Rule 17, the
sufficient discretion to dismiss the petition for failure of petitioner to comply with the failure of the plaintiff to appear on the date of the presentation of his/her evidence in chief
requirements enumerated in the section, including "such material portions of the record on the complaint is ground for the court to dismiss the complaint, without prejudice to the
as are referred to [in the petition], and other documents relevant or pertinent right of the defendant to prosecute the counterclaim in the same or in a separate action.
thereto."20 At the same time, "[d]ismissal of appeals purely on technical grounds is And under Section 5, Rule 18, the failure of the plaintiff or defendant to appear during
frowned upon and the rules of procedure ought not to be applied in a very rigid, technical pre-trial authorizes the court to either dismiss the complaint, if the plaintiff were absent;
sense, for they are adopted to help secure, not override, substantial justice, and thereby or to allow the plaintiff to present evidence ex parte, if the defendant were absent.
defeat their very aims."21 Thus, the Court has not hesitated to view Section 3 of Rule 46
with a liberal outlook, ruling for example that it was not necessary to attach certified true The operation of the above-cited provisions may defeat the cause of action or the
copies of such material portions of the record as referred to therein.22 defense of the party who violated the procedural rule. Yet it could not be said that any
resultant adverse judgment would contravene the due process clause, as the parties are
The situation in this case bears similarity to that which transpired in Cortez-Estrada v. presumed to have known the governing rules and the consequences for the violation of
Heirs of Samut.23 Therein, the petitioner had failed to attach material documents to her such rules. In contrast, the same presumption could not attach if a party were
petition before the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held the petition was condemned to the same outcome even if the party did not violate a prescribed rule of
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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)
procedure. Any ruling that disposes of an action or precludes a party from presenting the defendant during pre-trial was also mandatory, and that the defendant failed to justify
evidence in support or against thereof must have basis in law,25 and any ruling so its own absence during pre-trial.30
intentioned without legal basis is deemed as issued with grave abuse of discretion.26 In
the end, a person who is condemned to suffer loss of property without justifying legal There are two cases which, at first blush, may seem to affirm the action of the RTC. In
basis is denied due process of law. the disbarment case of Miwa v. Medina,31 a lawyer was suspended from the practice for
one (1) month for, among others, failing to appear during pre-trial, thus leading to the
Simply put, nothing in the Rules of Court authorizes a trial judge to allow the plaintiff to declaration of his client, the defendant, in default. At the same time, the Court
present evidence ex parte on account of the absence during pre-trial of the counsel for in Miwa did take the defendant herself to task for also failing to appear during pre-trial,
defendant. observing that "the failure of a party to appear at pre-trial, given its mandatory character,
may cause her to be non-suited or considered as in default."32
Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 18 warrant examination:
In Social Security System v. Chaves,33 the Social Security System (SSS) itself was
SEC. 4. Appearance of Parties. – It shall be the duty of the parties and their counsel to named as the defendant in a complaint filed with the RTC of Cagayan de Oro City. The
appear at the pre-trial. The non-appearance of a party may be excused only if a valid pre-trial brief was filed by the acting assistant branch manager of the SSS in Cagayan de
cause is shown therefor or if a representative shall appear in his behalf fully authorized in Oro City, who happened to be a lawyer and who also entered his appearance as counsel
writing to enter into an amicable settlement, to submit to alternative modes of dispute for the SSS. However, said lawyer was not present during pre-trial, and the SSS was
resolution, and to enter into stipulations or admissions of facts and of documents. declared in default and the complainants allowed to present their evidence ex parte. The
Court affirmed such order of default, noting other procedural violations on the part of
SEC. 5. Effect of failure to appear. – The failure of the plaintiff to appear when so SSS, such as the fact that the motion for reconsideration to lift the order of default lacked
required pursuant to the next preceding section shall be cause for dismissal of the action. verification, notice of hearing and affidavit of merit.
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 Notwithstanding, the Court is not convinced that SSS is ample precedent to affirm an
evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof. order of default where even though the defendant was present during pre-trial,
defendant's counsel failed to appear for the same hearing. The Court in SSS did not
Section 4 imposes the duty on litigating parties and their respective counsel during pre- make any categorical declaration to this effect. Moreover, it can be observed that in SSS,
trial. The provision also provides for the instances where the non-appearance of a party the counsel himself, the acting assistant branch manager of the SSS, would have been
may be excused. Nothing, however, in Section 4 provides for a sanction should the in addition, the representative of the SSS itself, a juridical person which can only make
parties or their respective counsel be absent during pre-trial. Instead, the penalty is an appearance during pre-trial through a natural person as its duly authorized
provided for in Section 5. Notably, what Section 5 penalizes is the failure to appear of representative. The Court of Appeals decision upheld in SSS, cited extensively in our
either the plaintiff or the defendant, and not their respective counsel. decision therein, expressly affirmed the order of default on the ground that "it is the
discretion of the trial judge to declare a party-defendant as in default for failure to appear
at a pre-trial conference." However, in SSS, neither the Court of Appeals nor this Court
Indeed, the Court has not hesitated to affirm the dismissals of complaints or the
expressly laid relevance to the fact that the counsel himself, as opposed to the
allowance of plaintiffs to present evidence ex parte on account of the absence of a party
defendant, had not attended the pre-trial.
during pre-trial. In United Coconut Planters Bank v. Magpayo,27 the complaint was
dismissed because although the counsel for complainant was present during the pre-trial
hearing, the Court affirmed such dismissal on account of said counsel's failure to present Upon the other hand, Africa v. Intermediate Appellate Court34 illuminates the proper
any special power of attorney authorizing him to represent the complainant during pre- standard within which to view the instant petition. It appeared therein that on the day of
trial.28 In Jonathan Landoil International Co. v. Mangudadatu,29 the defendant and its the pre-trial, counsel for the defendant (therein petitioner) had arrived ten minutes after
counsel failed to appear during pre-trial, and the complainants were allowed to present the case was called. Within that ten-minute span, the trial court had issued an order in
evidence ex parte. After an adverse decision was rendered against the defendant, it filed open court declaring the defendant in default and authorizing the plaintiff to present its
a motion for new trial in which it cited the illness of defendant's counsel as the reason for evidence ex parte. A mere two days later, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of
his non-appearance during pre-trial. While the Court acknowledged that such argument plaintiff. The Court reversed the trial court, holding that the order of default was issued
was not a proper ground for a motion for new trial, it also noted that the appearance of with grave abuse of discretion. The reasoning of the Court was grounded primarily on the
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CIVIL PROCEDURE CASES – Pre-trial (Rule 18)
doctrinal rule that frowned against "the injudicious and often impetuous issuance of While counsel is somewhat to blame for his non-attendance at pre-trial, incidentally the
default orders,"35 which led in that case to "a deni[al of the defendant's] basic right to be operative act which gave birth to the controversy at bar, it would be most unfair to
heard, even after his counsel had promptly explained the reason for his tardiness at the penalize petitioners for what may be the deficiency of their lawyer when the consequent
pre-trial."36 penalty has no basis in law. Particularly mitigating in the instant case is the fact that the
counsel for private respondents intimated, at an earlier hearing, a possibility of an
Still, it would not be proper to consider Africa as the governing precedent herein, amicable settlement to the case. Then, counsel for petitioners submitted a
influential as it may be to our disposition. It was not clear from the narration manifestation41 requesting therein that the parties be given ample time to respectively
in Africa whether the defendant himself was absent during the pre-trial, a circumstance discuss their proposals and counter-proposals and that the hearing for 23 January 2004
which is determinative to this petition. Moreover, the Court's tone in Africa indicated that be moved to a later date as may be agreed upon by the parties for submission of their
it was animated by a liberal philosophy towards the procedural rule, implying that the trial possible compromise agreement. It may well have been that counsel for petitioners
court's reversed action was nonetheless adherent to the strict letter of the rule. Whether labored under the false understanding that a compromise agreement was an imminent
or not the trial court in Africa acted conformably with the rules depends upon the possibility. The Court nonetheless notes that counsel was remiss in assuming that his
presence or absence of the defendant therein during pre-trial. It can no longer be motion to reset the scheduled hearing would necessarily be granted by the court a quo.
discerned whether the Court so ruled in Africa notwithstanding the presence or absence
of the defendant therein. It would be disingenuous though to assume, as a means of Be that as it may, there is no clear demonstration that the acts of the counsel of
applying that case as precedent herein, that the defendant was actually present during petitioners were intended to perpetuate delay in the litigation of the case.
the pre-trial in Africa. Assuming arguendo that the trial court correctly construed the actions of the counsel of
petitioners to be dilatory, it cannot be said that the court was powerless and virtually
Hence, we pronounce that the absence of counsel for defendants at pre-trial does without recourse but to order the ex parte presentation of evidence by therein plaintiffs.
not ipso facto authorize the judge to declare the defendant as in default and order the We are in some sympathy with the judge who was obviously aggrieved that the case was
presentation of evidence ex parte. It bears stressing that nothing in the Rules of Court dragging on for an undue length of time. But even so, there were other remedies
sanctions the presentation of evidence ex parte upon instances when counsel for available to the court.
defendant is absent during pre-trial. The Rules do not countenance stringent construction
at the expense of justice and equity.37 As the Court has previously enunciated: Among the inherent powers of the courts expressly recognized by the Rules include the
authority to enforce order in proceedings before it,42 to compel obedience to its
We cannot look with favor on a course of action which would place the judgments, orders and processes,43 and to amend and control its process and orders so
administration of justice in a straightjacket for then the result would be a poor as to make them conformable to law and justice.44 Moreover, the Code of Judicial
kind of justice if there would be justice at all. Verily, judicial orders, such as the Conduct empowers the courts to judiciously take or initiate disciplinary measures against
one subject of this petition, are issued to be obeyed, nonetheless a non- lawyers for unprofessional conduct.45 A show cause order to counsel would have been
compliance is to be dealt with as the circumstances attending the case may the more cautious and reasonable course of action to take under the circumstances then
warrant. What should guide judicial action is the principle that a party- prevailing. In failing to do so, the trial court impetuously deprived petitioners of the
litigant is to be given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his opportunity to meaningfully present an effective defense and to adequately adduce
complaint or defense rather than for him to lose life, liberty or properties on evidence in support of their contentions.
technicalities.38
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED and the resolutions of the Court
Due process dictates that petitioners be deprived of their right to be heard and to present of Appeals affirming the Orders of the Regional Trial Court in Civil Case No. R-3111
evidence to support their allegations if, and only if, there exists sufficient basis in fact and dated 23 January 2004 and 17 February 2004 are REVERSED. No costs. SO
in law to do so.39 There being a manifest lack of such basis in this case, petitioners would ORDERED.
be unjustly denied of the opportunity to fully defend themselves should the Court affirm
the questioned orders which were evidently issued by the RTC with grave abuse of
discretion. The better and certainly more prudent course of action in every judicial
proceeding is to hear both sides and decide on the merits rather than dispose of a case
on technicalities.40
6