"It would be best if settlement is pursued and achieved without the needless filing of court cases."
Substantive laws and the Rules of Court are passed with policies to allow aggrieved individuals, juridical entities, and entities authorized by the law to institute actions to vindicate rights violated or seek redress for breach of rights from the court. The aggrieved may file civil or criminal actions: civil actions are commenced for the protection of a right or prevention of a wrong (Section 3 (a), Rule 1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure) while criminal actions are initiated by the State to prosecute an offender for an act or omission punishable by law (Section 3 (b), Rule 1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure). There is another type of action which is loosely treated in practice as civil actions since it seeks no penal sanction but is a remedy sought by a litigant to establish a status, a right, or a particular fact – these are known as special proceedings (Section 3 (c), Rule 1 of the Rules of Court).
In truth, there are practical and strategic reasons as to why these actions are filed in court by those who claim to have been aggrieved. Unfortunately, some tailor their cases to leverage, threaten, or force the adverse parties to compromise, desist from taking retaliatory actions, and demand monetary compensation, among others. In a country where fake news is rampant even among the educated, and where people who have the temerity to fabricate, tell misleading stories, twist, and exaggerate facts run amok, it is no surprise that our court dockets are clogged with adversarial proceedings. This is the reality I faced as a young lawyer decades ago which sadly, to this day, has not been completely eradicated.
This led to the amendment of Section 1, Rule 8 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure which then only requires “ultimate facts” in pleadings to establish claims or defenses devoid of evidentiary matters. With the amendment, pleadings must now allege the evidence in support of the claims or defenses which includes the names of the witnesses, the summary of the witness statements together with the judicial affidavits, and object and documentary evidence. In the same direction, the attestation of the lawyer when he signs the pleadings was made ironclad to state that the allegations were warranted by the law and jurisprudence, they were not frivolous and have evidentiary support and will not needlessly increase the cost of litigation (Section 3, Rule 7 of the Rules of Civil Procedure). This attestation was mirrored in the verification to be signed by the client or complainant. The drafters knew fully well that there are lawyers who are adept at crafting complaints, initiatory pleadings and other court submissions even without available evidence. The frame of mind of some lawyers then was that parties will have sufficient time to look for, collate evidence and interview witnesses before the trial, and that the talks for settlement with the intercession of the mediator during the court-annexed-mediation will buy them a couple of months before the case will proceed to trial.
But still there is a substantial number of cases which are filed by parties with the genuine belief that their rights were breached and are therefore entitled to some monetary compensation. Likewise, in criminal cases the offender will have to suffer the penalty of imprisonment to correct the unlawful conduct and protect the society from the danger of repeated actions by the offender. The question is – may pending civil and criminal cases be compromised or settled? If yes, how? The answer is in the affirmative, but the settlement procedures will vary.
In civil cases, an offer of compromise (or settlement) is not an admission of any liability. It means that the initiatives to settle which includes conduct or statements made cannot be taken against the party making it, except: (a) if the evidence is discoverable or offered for another purpose, such as to prove the bias or prejudice of a witness; (b) to negate a contention of undue delay, or (c) to prove an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution (Section 28, Rule 130 of the Rules on Evidence). Hence, in civil cases, parties may freely explore the possibility of a settlement at any stage in the proceedings, whether in the trial court or the appellate court. Parties will have to be cautious, however, that the conduct or statement during the settlement discussions will not reveal a biased or prejudiced witness which may be independently discoverable and be used against him; or will not appear to be an attempt to obstruct justice. It is imperative that any compromise concluded by the parties in the case should be with the approval and consent of the court.
In criminal cases however, except those involving quasi-offenses (criminal negligence) or those allowed by law to be compromised, an offer of compromise by the accused may be received in evidence as an implied admission of guilt (Section 28, Rule 130 of the Rules on Evidence). In the light of this provision, how may a compromise be reached in criminal cases? For a better understanding of mediation or settlement in criminal cases, we must refer to the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial which enumerates cases that may be subject to mediation, such are: (a) violations of BP 22, the SSS law, and the PAG-IBIG Law; (b) theft, estafa under Article 315 (1), other forms of swindling under Article 316, swindling of a minor under Article 317, other deceits under Article 318, and malicious mischief under Article 327; (c) crimes against honor under Title 13 of the Revised Penal Code where liability may be civil in nature (libel, threatening to publish for compensation, prohibited publication of official proceedings, grave slander, simple slander, grave slander by deed, simple slander by deed, incriminating innocent persons, and intriguing against honor); (d) libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012; and (e) criminal negligence where liability may be civil in nature, and intellectual property rights cases where the liability may be civil in nature.
It is evident that settlements in criminal cases only cover the civil liability of the case. Why then will the accused agree to a compromise that will not terminate or close his criminal case with finality? The reality is that once the offended party agrees to receive monetary compensation from the accused to cover the civil liability aspect of the case, the offended party will no longer be interested in pursuing his criminal action; he will then be willing to execute an Affidavit of Desistance to show that the elements of the crime charged are now wanting. In practice, the court will hear the offended party/affiant on the witness stand to make sure that the Affidavit of Desistance was voluntarily made and without consideration other than the payment of the civil liability. Once the court is convinced, the criminal case will be dismissed upon the motion of the prosecution since it no longer has evidence to prove its case. Take note however, that only the crimes enumerated as mediatable under the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial and those allowed by law may be compromised.
While there are opportunities for mediation of pending cases, it would be best if settlement is pursued and achieved without the needless filing of court cases. By doing this, we will help unclog our court dockets, save on filing fees, and limit the cost and expense of litigation for our clients. Our clients will likewise be freed from sleepless nights, anxiety, worry, stress, and agony while their cases hang in the balance.